Things quickly turned sour for President Obama on Monday in San Francisco at what was supposed to be a stopover in friendly territory. Instead, he was greeted by angry protesters from both wings of the political spectrum. Even independent libertarians expressed their disappointment in a president that seems to be hemorrhaging support with each passing day.

Protesters swirled around the entrance to the Bill Graham Auditorium, tormenting the ticket-holders waiting in line to see Obama and radical socialist musician Michael Franti. What made this particular protest unique was that its participants spanned the entire spectrum of American politics, from conservatives to leftists, from marijuana advocates to the NRA, from the Tea Party to Code Pink, from Occupy San Francisco to “Porn Stars for Romney” to PETA, and everyone in between. Who can unite them all? Only Obama!

This Romney fan (who caucused with the Tea Party protesters) pretty much summed up the mood of the day.

Just steps away, this anti-drone activist (who caucused with World Can’t Wait) was even more harsh with his criticism of Obama.

The “states’ rights”-minded libertarian marijuana advocates were unhappy with Obama for clamping down on pot clinics, even in states with medical marijuana laws.

They even deployed their most potent weapon, the dreaded Giant Puppet.

Didn’t matter where each protest group fell on the political spectrum — they all were unhappy with Obama.

Who else showed up to protest the president?

Occupy Wall Street? Check.

The NRA? Check.

Code Pink? As always.

PETA went the Full Pachyderm with an angry elephant.

Single-payer health care advocates were miffed about the muddled half-measures known as Obamacare.

“Porn Stars for Romney” entertained the crowds with his roller-skate antics and hilarious “I Built It” costume, but most people could not even figure out whose side he was on. Any protester riffing on “You didn’t build that” is presumed to be anti-Obama, but Mr. Porn Star later seemed to reveal that his Romney advocacy was sarcastic, bewildering onlookers as to what he was protesting for, if anything.

Most likely he was an ideological counterpart to this guy, who hated everyone equally.

After a quick stop in Los Angeles for some high-toned fundraisers on Sunday, Obama started Monday morning with a short visit to the outskirts of Bakersfield where he unveiled a monument to Cesar Chavez. Then he arrived in San Francisco for a hush-hush fundraiser with unknown individuals at the InterContinental Hotel (seen here surrounded by a security cordon of police vehicles) — an event not only closed to the press, but the existence of which was kept entirely under wraps.

Absolutely no one knew about this event — the tiny handful of people on hand were accidental passersby.

The next stop on his itinerary was the Bill Graham Auditorium in San Francisco’s Civic Center, where Alice Waters and all the trendiest chefs in the Bay Area prepared supper for Obama and any other 1%er millionaires willing to fork over $20,000 per person for the privilege of presidential access (full menu from the event visible here).

Then they all moved into the adjacent auditorium, joined by the hoi polloi (seen above waiting in line) who paid $100 each for tickets to see Obama and a concert by socialist performer Michael Franti, who presumably entertained Obama and the cadres and revolutionary vanguard with some of his trademark lyrics like:

I met a black man who became a police officer
officer, officer, officer, officer, officer, overseer
he tried to tell me it was the only job available
either rob or join the mob ’cause I’m not salable
one night he went out on an undercover sting-ing
bought some smack tried to break the heroin ring-ring
Two cops white cops saw juggling goin’ down
they spilled his brain like homey the fuckin’ clown
(He’s gone!)
Mama Mama Mama Mama I couldn’t say no
got sick and tired of seein’ people bein’ treated ill
picked up my nines, walked up from behind
tapped two of them on the neck so I could meet their eyes direct
Pom! Pom!
I didn’t do it for tha payroll

(Also on the bill was someone named “John Legend.”)

The Obama voters had to run a gauntlet of protest groups on the way into the auditorium.

Various northern California Tea Party groups made up the largest protest contingent by far.

Larry of the Fund47 blog has an extensive slideshow of Tea Partiers at the event.

Many of the Obama fans in line were wearing large buttons that said “I’m Entitled…”, along with some smaller writing that was hard to make out.

I finally got a close-up view of them, only to discover that they read “I’m Entitled…to know how I can get an $87 million IRA in less than 14,500 years. Bay Area for Obama 10/8/2012.” This was apparently an attempt to make some kind of political hay about Romney being wealthy and about his comments on the corrosive entitlement mentality, but the buttons were just a disaster. First of all, it was difficult for random onlookers to read the small text, so it just seemed like all the Obama voters were walking around announcing proudly that they feel “entitled.” But even if you squinted and were able to read to rest of the message, it still was some kind of Democratic in-joke that made little sense to the average person. As for Romney’s sin of being wealthy — what about S.F.’s representatives in Washington, Nancy Pelosi and Dianne Feinstein, being among the richest members of Congress with fortunes that rival or surpass Romney’s? Ooops. Meme FAIL.

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Yesterday the motley remnants of Occupy Los Angeles finally got around to celebrating Occupy Wall Street’s one-year anniversary (more than two weeks after all the other OWS groups did so.) In fact, this lackadaisical attitude about their own rally perfectly reflected the newly emergent operational philosophy of OccupyLA, which one might deem Anarcho-Laziness: the right to avoid employment.

Once again Ringo of Ringo’s Pictures was on hand at Downtown L.A.’s Pershing Square to record the festivities. A blow-by-blow account of how the one-year anniversary march played out will be posted soon at ringospictures.com; this PJM post will serve as a preview of some of the more amusing scenes.

Distancing themselves from both major political parties — and from any semblance of human decency — the Occupiers proudly showed off their grandest banner, an allegorical Gauginesque painting of a Republican elephant copulating as only an elephant can with a Democrat she-donkey (technically a “jenny“).

But a major theme of the day seemed to be an active antipathy to the notion of work. The Occupiers seek a new societal paradigm in which people laze about and enjoy themselves, while magical fairies and unicorns bring them delicacies on silver trays.

Capitalism, you see, has robbed us all of our free time. If it wasn’t for that mean ol’ capitalism we could just slack off all day! But as the sign at the lower right shows…

…not everybody is clear on the concept. Quoting Karl Marx directly conflicts with the principles of Anarcho-Laziness: the whole point of communism is to ensure that everybody has a job.

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The Five False Assumptions Behind Poll-Skewing

September 27th, 2012 - 11:20 am

Polls polls polls polls polls. In the weeks leading up to a presidential election, that’s all anyone talks about. Polls subsume all other news: Every soundbite, disaster, current event, policy, gaffe, decision and incident are merely vectors in pollspace, data which may or may not nudge the candidates’ numbers up or down a notch.

Therefore he who controls the polls can retroactively control everything that happens: Any event or utterance can be afterward spun as wonderful or ruinous if you can demonstrate that the subsequent poll showed a bounce or a dip. Polls are seen as irrefutable ex post facto evidence that a slanted news report was in fact accurate: “See? You complained when we quickly labeled the candidate’s joke as a ‘gaffe,’ but this new poll shows he dropped three points, so that proves it really was a gaffe.”

As a result, the 2012 presidential campaign is paralleled by a surrogate Poll War enjoined by each side’s supporters in the punditocracy. Whatever else happens in real life, the partisans are in an endless down-and-dirty mud-wrestling match over the veracity and reliability of polls.

The Purpose of Poll-Skewing

Each side has defined for itself an ultimate goal. Obama’s supporters in the media and online strive incessantly to demonstrate and publicize that Obama is ahead in the polls. Romney’s supporters strive to demonstrate that those polls are skewed, since the published totals are “weighted” (i.e. arbitrarily distorted) to match statistics about past voter behavior that are no longer true.

Now, if you had just landed on Earth from another galaxy, you likely would be very confused about this behavior on the part of the poll-wrestlers. Presuming there is such a thing as objective reality, there must be a certain true percentage of people who support each candidate — so what purpose is served by intentionally misrepresenting that reality if, at the end of the campaign, that misrepresentation will be trumped by an actual vote? Isn’t the purpose of polls to reveal a snapshot of how things really stand?

Oh you naive extraterrestrials, we reply. Originally, yes, polls were meant to document reality, but nowadays polls are designed to mold reality. If two candidates are in truth currently tied, but we announce that one of them is in the lead, then on election day he will actually win, because our false poll reporting affected how people vote. Get it?

Amateur Mass Psychology

No, actually, I don’t get it. This entire strategy, which dominates the 2012 election even more than it dominated earlier campaigns, is based on some amateurish assumptions about mass psychology that have never been proven, or even tested. I find it extremely odd that no one has ever questioned these assumptions — until now, at least — because so much depends on them. What if it turns out, after endless person-hours expended on the Poll Wars, that the assumptions justifying poll-skewing are completely wrong?

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San Failcisco: Occupy Anniversary Rally Flops in SF

September 19th, 2012 - 10:25 am

The Occupy Wall Street movement celebrated its one-year anniversary on Monday, September 17 with birthday rallies in various cities around the country. The “party” in San Francisco only served to remind everyone how pointless, futile, disgusting and irrelevant Occupy has been from the very start.

Unstoppable, baby! Yeah!

Despite the impressive-seeming full schedule of capitalism-smashing “direct actions” all day long, most of them fizzled into nothingness as the first half of the rally quickly devolved into everyone…

…sitting around and painting slogans on Market Street.

Then we all trooped over to the Financial District for a brief rally in front of the Bank of America building (one of the tallest buildings on the West Coast and eternal symbol of the eeeeeeevil banking industry).

And then the assembled four hundred or so protesters marched back to Market Street. This revolutionary act stunned the world! Some people walked up a street, and then later walked down a different street! Gasp!

(Video courtesy of a contributor.)
This video shows the day’s climactic moment, as the marchers chanted “Happy Birthday, Occupy!”

Since nothing really happened of any significance all afternoon and since the rally had no real narrative arc other than a bunch of crazies, bums and activists milling around the city for a few hours, the photos below are presented in no particular order.

On the very day that violent Islamic fundamentalist riots broke out all over the Arab world, one protester still hadn’t gotten the memo that maybe it’s not so smart to compare the Occupy movement with a revolution that paved the way for the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda to gain political ascendency.

Economic thinking among the Occupiers remained exceedingly uninsightful. This typical sign demanded that we “curb the corporations” and then somehow also guarantee “jobs for the 99%.” But if we’ve just curbed all the corporations, which presumably would entail downsizing and layoffs, then for whom will all these 99%ers be working? I guess the answer would be “the government” in a completely centralized economy. Because we all know how well that worked out in the 20th century. To be honest, I doubt her analysis extended that far: All she knows is that corporations are bad and jobs for everyone are good, end of story.

The anarchists from Occupy Oakland don’t want jobs or a centralized all-powerful government, of course. But let’s not let details undermine our unity!

Yes, unity. Since the very beginning of the movement a year ago, there had never been a unified Occupy front in the Bay Area. OccupySF was distinct from Occupy Oakland which was different from Occupy Berkeley which was even different from Occupy U.C. Berkeley — not to mention Occupy groups in smaller cities nearby. Furthermore, the big city Occupy groups had fractured into squabbling cliques, such as Oakland which broke apart into Occupy Patriarchy and Occupy Gentrification among others, while San Francisco saw the emergence of local neighborhood groups like Occupy Bernal. The end result was a chaotic directionless jumble of competing mini-Occupies jockeying for power in their tiny political pond.

A protester interviewed at the rally tried to put a positive spin on the situation:

“A lot of the groups that were involved in the Occupy movement are still active and doing things but they’ve kind of dispersed. It’s decentralized,” said Zoe Desalle, 25, of Oakland. “There are groups fighting foreclosures. There are groups working on banks. There’s Occupy The Farm and people have gone on (to) different local issues and projects. Which is really cool but it’s also important for people to affirm that we’re still here and doing things…”

But the arrival of the one-year anniversary changed all that. Realizing that each tiny group on its own had no chance of succeeding, they finally decided to band together into OBAU: Occupy Bay Area United. This rally marked the birth of the new united front. And yet, somehow, despite all the Occupies (even extending all the way down to Santa Cruz) coming together for a grand convergence, they still managed just a few hundred participants at most.

At least the few remaining diehards have maintained their anti-American mala fides, as the sign above proves.

In a last desperate clutching at straws, this fellow begged Occupy’s diametric opposites to rescue his flailing movement by joining forces. Sorry, buddy — a little late in the game for that.

Y’know, my friend, I have considered the implications of a maximum wage, and this is what I concluded: In order to prevent people from earning as much money as they desire, we necessarily would have to live in a totalitarian police state which punished success by force — and/or we’d have to implement a 95+% tax rate on business owners. Both of which would lead to economic collapse, widespread poverty, and a culture of fear and oppression.

What makes me depressed is that you haven’t considered any of this.

In addition to the usual motley Occupy crew of smelly homeless bums…

..washed up former radicals reminiscing about the glory days of the ’60s…

…political eccentrics…

…young paranoiacs who reduce everything to a series of Twitter hashtags…

…and union members, we had…

…well, actually, that just about covers everyone.

(Video courtesy of a contributor.)
Here’s an Occupy troubadour singing “The Answer, My Friend, Is Tax the Millionaires,” a so-bad-it’s-funny rewrite of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

At the Bank of America building, many of the protesters stood for a photo shoot holding several large banners made for the occasion.

But what you don’t see in the staged shot is that the organizers had been wildly over-optimistic about the size of the rally and made far more banners than there were people willing to carry them. Most of them remained unused all day.

All sorts of attention-getting political actions had been announced throughout the day, yet most seemed to evaporate or slip by quickly, unnoticed by the majority of participants. For example, at one point we were all supposed to “compost our debt,” but I never saw any composting going on. Later I read that some folks had symbolically torn up and thrown away scraps of paper representing their debts, but it was such a minor sideshow that few people saw what happened.

Things have gotten so “meta” in the protest world that people write pre-emptive captions for photos before the photos are even taken, to make sure the story is framed properly. Therefore, I was going to write a caption that said “This is not a tent — it is a symbol of protest,” but now I don’t have to! What a time-saver!

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Memo to non-leftist bloggers, reporters, and culture-shapers: TAKE THE GODDAMN GLOVES OFF.

This campaign just got real. From right now until election day, no holds are barred.

The mainstream media has dropped all pretense of impartiality. Their behavior in response to the latest Mideast crisis was blatant, outrageous — and effective. When the world erupted on September 11 and the Obama administration groveled at the feet of our barbarian attackers, the major news outlets — knowing that this was a disastrous turn of events for the Obama campaign which could not be spun in his favor — decided the only solution was to brazenly change the subject to a fabricated peripheral side issue: that Romney had committed some kind of “gaffe” by criticizing the government’s weak-kneed response.

As Obama’s dithering threatened to ignite a world war, a significant percentage of mainstream news outlets blared headlines like ROMNEY GAFFE DERAILS REPUBLICAN HOPES and ROMNEY WON’T BACK DOWN FROM FALSE CLAIM. Of course neither of these headlines (nor countless similar headlines over the past two days) was factually true: The only thing that transformed Romney’s rather mild criticism into a “gaffe” was that the media itself declared it to be so.

The MSM knows full well it manipulates The Narrative, and invariably does so to the benefit of Obama, the Democrats, and “progressivism” in general. And people like you and I know this full well too. But until now the media has at least feigned impartiality, not to trick us but in order to maintain credibility and influence over the Honey Boo Boos.

Who Are the Honey Boo Boos?

Honey Boo Boos is a term I just made up for the last remaining undecided voters in America. As you may have read at the time, the infantile and atrocious reality TV show Here Comes Honey Boo Boo either surpassed or tied the viewership totals of both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. That means millions of people are so tuned out of politics and so uninterested in current affairs that they’d rather watch a family of obese rednecks abusing their young daughter than learn even the most basic facts about the next president of the United States. These Honey Boo Boo viewers are what pollsters like to call “low information voters,” but that descriptor is not complete: Honey Boo Boos are also low interest voters whose political ideology is either easily malleable or absent altogether.

To that extent they can be easily manipulated — if you can get their attention. But getting their attention is not so simple.

Since about 90% of the evenly split electorate has already chosen their candidates, and are exceedingly unlikely to ever change their minds, the Honey Boo Boos are the only remaining pool of potential voters worth targeting. And the media thinks it has figured out how to target them.

Since Honey Boo Boos barely pay any attention to the “news,” they get their information through a sort of unconscious osmosis of the general national zeitgeist. If enough half-read headlines and talking heads droning in the background say the economy is in the dumps, then the Honey Boo Boos eventually internalize that the economy must be in the dumps. If candy canes and wreaths start appearing in store windows and a few notes of muzak “Jingle Bells” remain audible above the screaming toddlers, then the Honey Boo Boos figure Christmas must be coming up soon. And if a sufficient plurality of media outlets scream that some guy named Romney did something stupid, then this Romney guy must be an idiot.

Really, that’s about how deep it goes.

The media knows that at this stage in the election, the headline is all that matters. And the headline need only be barely supported by some underlying veracity. If you can find some cooperative Democratic staffer to mouth the word “gaffe,” then you’re off to the races with a deceptive headline whose only purpose is to impact the retina of a distracted Honey Boo Boo if only for a second.

Truthaganda vs. Propaganda

Conservatives and libertarians spend far too much time having apoplectic fits over this relentless media bias, even though it isn’t really directed at us, nor even at liberals. If we want to impact the Honey Boo Boos in the same way, then we’ve got to start playing the media’s game, and playing it NOW, since time is running out before November 6.

Too often we non-leftist bloggers, editors and pundits fashion our headlines to appeal to fellow non-leftists, or at least to well-informed “reasonable” readers. But those people have already irreversibly made up their minds, long ago. We’ve got to consciously start targeting the Honey Boo Boos. Metaphorically slap ‘em upside the head.

The goal is to create an enveloping data matrix which gives the Honey Boo Boos a sort of half-aware impression that the narrative we’ve concocted for them is not simply a partisan narrative fighting for their allegiance but rather is simply the way things are.

To that end, the headlines need to be as unsubtle as possible, but still hewing to reality — reality through our lens.

I call this approach “truthaganda,” to contrast it with the leftists’ more traditional and more mendacious “propaganda.” The progressives have a massive advantage over us because their Gramscian predecessors have gotten a hammer-lock on the mainstream media which they have no intention of ever letting go; but we at least have truth on our side. All we’ve got to do is turn that truth up to 11. Perhaps even 11.5.

Examples From Today’s Headlines

Let’s look at two stories from today’s news stream as examples.

In the first, various outlets reported that the Obama administration has asked YouTube to censor and take offline the goofy anti-Mohammed film, since it offends Muslims.

Now, a fair number of right-minded pundits and bloggers wisely jumped on this story. HotAir, as a typical example, titled their version “White House: Yes, we asked YouTube to consider removing that Mohammed movie.” Most other headlines were similar: Accurate, moderately concise.

But no Honey Boo Boo could get even halfway through that headline. It was directed at pre-existing news junkies. I propose that we emulate our MSM betters by incorporating the next level of assumption into the headline itself; a truthagandistic headline for this story would be


Making it big and red like that helps too.

Just as the MSM leapt over the baseline facts and trumpeted in the headline the presumptive opinion that Romney had committed a “gaffe,” so we too will leap over the baseline facts and jump to the the second-tier analysis that this amounts to a unilateral imposition of blasphemy laws through executive intimidation. It’s just as true as, if not more true than, any number of biased headlines that appear hourly without shame in progressive-friendly media outlets (i.e. most of them).

Blogger Ace of Spades came closest, as he often does, to the truthaganda ideal, with his headline:


Very good. Halfway there. Seven-Eighths of the way there. But perhaps still directed a little bit too much toward the already-convinced, those who even know what an “Islamist” is.

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Quantitative Easing, Weimar Edition

September 13th, 2012 - 1:58 pm

This morning the Federal Reserve announced it was going to embark on a third round of “quantitative easing,” a financial maneuver that already has its own nickname: QE3.

But what exactly is “quantitative easing”? Well, as The Washington Post helpfully explains,

Since the Federal Reserve can just create dollars out of thin air, it can buy up assets like long-term Treasuries or mortgage-backed securities from commercial banks and other institutions. This pumps money into the U.S. economy and reduces long-term interest rates further.

“Create dollars out of thin air” is another way of saying, “Print money.” Since the U.S. dollar is no longer backed by gold or any other commodity other than people’s faith in the government, the Federal Reserve can just print up billions of dollars and hand them out. (“Print” in this situation is entirely metaphorical, of course: the government isn’t actually printing paper bills, but rather just arbitrarily increasing the amount of “money” it has.)

Now, the average person might wonder: If creating money is that easy, then why don’t we just print up $16 trillion and get ourselves out of debt? The answer is interesting: Although the government can increase the amount of cash floating around, it can’t conjure actual value or worth. All it can do is put more money into circulation in an economic system whose underlying net worth remains the same. The end result is that, although the total amount of dollars in circulation increases, the cumulative value of things to buy remains the same — so the intrinsic worth of each dollar is diminished. Another word for this is inflation.

In fact, artificially creating inflation is one of the goals of quantitative easing, in situations where deflation (as happened during the Great Depression) would otherwise be likely to occur. The first round of QE, back in 2008, was indeed enacted to stave off looming deflation.

The Federal Reserve, we can only assume, announced QE3 as an attempt to help the economy, but many experts disagree, with some thinking it will have no effect whatsoever, while others think it could actually hurt in the long run. Quantitative easing is generally thought of as a “shot of adrenaline,” to give the economy an artificial but electrifying quick boost, in the hopes that the boost will be self-sustaining, and optimism will build upon optimism and it will shock us out of the doldrums. But other economists fear that giving adrenaline to an exhausted weak man will not magically make him strong — it will just force him to have a brief period of hyperactivity before it wears off and he collapses, weaker and more worn out than before.

Quantitative Easing in Weimar Republic Germany

I’m not enough of an expert to know if 2012′s QE3 will work as hoped, but I do know about a comparable moment in history when “quantitative easing” went haywire and ended up causing hyperinflation.

Travel back with me to Germany in 1923 and let’s look at what can happen when a government starts printing money with no basis behind it.

The root causes of the hyperinflation in Weimar Germany are complicated and still debated: the wikipedia article on the topic is a good starting point if you’re interested. Germany at the time (just as the U.S. does now) had a crushing national debt, and many other nations felt that Germany intentionally ignited inflation of the German Mark as a way to “inflate its way out of debt” — a strategy some have suggested for the U.S. now, in fact.

But as the citizens of Germany discovered in 1923, once inflation starts heating up, it can quickly reach a level of explosive combustion that even the government can’t control. In the early ’20s, the other nations of Europe, distrusting the stability of the German Mark, began demanding payment in either gold or foreign denominations. So the German government frantically began buying up other nations’ currencies. But those other nations didn’t trust that the Marks they were getting would keep their value, so they demanded a higher and higher exchange rate. So Germany simply starting printing up bills to pay the higher rates, but that only increased the doubts over the Mark’s solvency, and exchange rates rose, and more money was printed, and it spiraled out of control. In early 1923 trust in the value of the German Mark completely collapsed, and it quickly descended toward worthlessness. With every passing month, week, day, hour, the Mark became worth less and less, and the government had to print more and more bills of higher and higher denomination. This lasted until late November 1923, when the Mark was discarded as a currency entirely, and a new national currency — the “Rentenmark” — was introduced, with 12 zeros being lopped off the old prices.

By chance I recently came into possession of a fascinating collection of these now worthless “inflation Marks” from the Weimar Republic. (So many are still floating around that you can pick them up fairly easily at flea markets and collectibles stores.) I scanned the bills and present them below for your edification as to what can happen when “quantitative easing” is overused:

This bill, which is dated February 1920, predates the inflation: It was worth 10 marks, a decent amount at the time. This is our starting point.

Fast forward a few years: By November 1922, the inflation has already become serious. This bill from that month has a denomination of 50,000 Marks, which would have been a fortune back in 1920, but by November 1922 was worth about as much as the 10 Mark bill above.

Now we’re up to February 1923. 100,000 Marks was by this time the equivalent of pocket change.

A few months later, in August 1923, 200,000 Mark bills were as commonplace. But this was just the beginning. (Starting with this bill, it’s not entirely clear on which exact date each note was actually printed; the dates shown on the bills may be the dates that the issuance was authorized. I’ve done my best to keep them chronological.)

A short time later, denominations in the hundreds of thousands has already become essentially worthless. The government began issuing bills worth millions of Marks, such as this 2 million Mark note.

Also from late August or early September 1923, this 5 million Mark note might have gotten you a small loaf of bread if you were lucky. Note that the German Mint was in full panic mode, and had no time to actually print up new bills anymore: they simply began overprinting old bills. In this case, a 20 mark note was overprinted to become a 5 million Mark note.

By September 2, 1923, 10 million mark notes were essentially the smallest bill of any real value; anything less than 10 million was meaningless.

A week or so later, 50 million Mark notes replaced the 10 million Mark notes at the bottom of the currency scale.

By October, 100 million Mark notes were like pennies are to us today.

And finally, this note likely from November of 1923 (according to the dates in the fine print, its issuance was authorized in September and it was supposed to maintain its value until January 1924) was for the princely sum of 500 million Marks. Just a few years earlier, owning 500 million Marks would have made you the richest person in Germany. By November of 1923, it took a pocketful of bills like these — or, famously, a wheelbarrow of lesser bills — just to get a bite to eat.

The following week, all these bills were officially declared worthless, and Germany started over with a new currency.

Does a similar fate await the United States?

Flashback: All This and Weimar, Too: The Million Reichsmark March

Sluts on Parade: SlutWalk SF 2012

September 10th, 2012 - 11:31 am

San Francisco hosted its second annual SlutWalk on Saturday, September 8, and just like last year I showed up with a small group of fellow sluts to join the cutting edge of American politics.

I covered the first SlutWalk in 2011, but I was hoping, what with the whole Sandra Fluke/Rush Limbaugh controversy, the Todd Akin brouhaha, and many delegates at the Democratic convention wearing “Sluts Vote” pins, that this year’s SlutWalk would be bigger, bolder and better than ever.

Alas, it was not to be. To my (and surely the organizers’) great disappointment, SlutWalk San Francisco 2012 was smaller, calmer and less exciting than the previous year’s event. Perhaps that’s because the original impetus behind SlutWalk — a Toronto police constable telling women at a 2011 crime conference that they could decrease their odds of getting raped if they didn’t dress like sluts — is already receding into the past and no longer feels like a fresh outrage. Or perhaps it’s because anger over the term “slut” has since become mainstreamed, and it no longer feels particularly radical or avant garde to discuss the word anymore? Either way, SlutWalk 2012 was — dare I say it? — a modest affair.

That isn’t to say the protest was devoid of intentional play-obscenity and manufactured outrage; as the picture above shows, there was plenty of that as usual. But the joke was already wearing a bit thin.

I already comprehensively deconstructed the SlutWalk concept in my previous year’s report, and everything I said then remains true. Little, in fact, has changed in the SlutWalk universe, so rather than repeat myself presenting the same analysis of the same cognitive dissonance, I invite you to read the link above for a full investigation into the SlutWalk concept. This time around it’ll be more pictures and fewer words — just as you like it!

If I had to select one sign at the rally to sum up the entire day’s philosophy, this would be it: “Hey! Control your lust!

And the other half of the basic SlutWalk message is contained in this sign: “The amount of clothes I wear does not change how much respect I deserve.” (And no, that’s not her actual pubic hair. It’s a merkin.) (And yes, I’ve waited my whole life to use “merkin” in a caption. At last!)

But aside from the SlutWalk essentials, there were plenty of individualized freelance messages as well. This phallocentric gentleman creeped everyone out with his “Reclaim yor penis in love” shirt. And no, I don’t know what it means. I don’t even want to know what it means.

You’re probably curious: Did the SlutWalkers show a lot of Obama Love? Oddly, no: Although there was quite a lot of Republican-bashing, as expected, only one marcher, shown here, overtly campaigned for Obama. I’m quite certain that there were a grand total of zero Romney votes in the crowd, but it was probably considered just too square and predictable for most of the protesters to openly declare their support for a sitting president. One must maintain a supremely radical pose in public, and then in the voting booth get pragmatic and pull that lever for “D.”

One Democratic politician did show up and speak to the crowd: California State Assembly member Sally Lieber, who in the video above goes Full Slut and says,

I stand before you as a slut. I hope to become more of a slut. I know that you’re all sluts. I hope you still are and I still I am when I’m 80 years old, when I’m 100 years old, when I’m 120 years old.

If you still haven’t read my 2011 analysis and are mystified as to why anyone would say this: One of the goals of SlutWalk is to “reclaim” the word slut, so that it loses its power and is no longer an insult — just as the homosexual community did with the words “gay” and “queer.”

But this poses a serious problem for the movement’s public messaging, and partly explains why the Fluke/Limbaugh/Akin fiasco did not energize the SlutWalk movement much: It becomes difficult to act offended and outraged at being called a slut when you are simultaneously embracing the word and calling yourself a slut. “Don’t you dare call me a slut — I’m a slut!” doesn’t make much sense as a political stance.

As a result, the crowd was pretty thin — I’m not much good at crowd estimates, but I doubt it was any more than 300 at most, as this photo of the pre-march rally in Dolores Park shows.

The most interesting person at SlutWalk was this slut who wore a burka made of an American flag. While the speakers at the rally were free to bash Christianity, no mention was ever made of gender oppression in the Islamic world, where of course it is a million times worse than in America. I think her costume meant to imply that America is oppressive toward women. And to indicate that allegorically she has fashioned a flag into a burka.

But what she may not have paused to consider is that, by referencing the burka itself as a shorthand symbol of gender oppression, she was confirming the presumptive truth that the mistreatment of women in the Islamic world remains the epitome of what oppression looks like. In other words: If you condemn American society by comparing it to Islamic society, then the underlying assumption is that Islamic society must be really bad. So, this burka-wearer was the only person to unwittingly criticize Islam at SlutWalk.

Another issue that bedevils SlutWalk is what some call “body fascism”: the inescapable human social hierarchy based on one’s level of attractiveness. While some SlutWalkers decry the very concept of an appearance pecking order as a “cosmetic assault,” many protesters go out of their way to doll themselves up as sexily and sluttily as possible, to drive home the point that looking sexy and attractive is not and should not be an invitation to rape. So there still remains at SlutWalk the same cognitive dissonance I noted at the first march, in which some SlutWalkers embrace “looksism” with a vengeance, while others embrace off-putting repulsiveness as a political statement.

The Neanderthals reading this may be thinking, “Yeah, but were the protesters attractive or ugly? My assessment of their protest depends entirely on this fact.” Sorry to disappoint, but there is no simple answer: like any random crowd of people, the SlutWalkers ranged from…

…very very cute, to…

…intentionally off-putting, to…

…bearded ladies, to…

…uh, well, I’ll let you make the call.

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The missing Solyndra tubes have finally turned up — in a modern art exhibit at U.C. Berkeley:

One of the great mysteries of the 2011 Solyndra bankruptcy was: What happened to all that money? After the United States government “loaned” Solyndra $535 million, the money quickly vanished; the bankruptcy court later found that the company had essentially no cash on hand. They had spent it all on equipment and inventory.

Surely, then, the inventory could be sold and liquidated, to recover some of the ill-spent cash — right? Well, not really. Auctions of the material at the shuttered Solyndra factory produced very little revenue, as the highly specialized machinery and proprietary photovoltaic components spurred little interest among the auction vultures, since the parts could be used only for one specific purpose: to make Solyndra’s unique tubular solar panels.

The fate of Solyndra’s millions of unused glass tubes is still unknown (many of them were likely destroyed — we’ll get to that part of the story in a moment), but luckily a pair of Bay Area artists managed to get their hands on some of the surviving Solyndra tubes and put them to good use…not to produce electricity, but as art.

The Solyndra tube exhibit, known as “SOL Grotto” and designed by artist/architects Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello, was installed in the University of California at Berkeley Botanical Garden as part of a larger multi-work installation dubbed “Natural Discourse“:

The tubes were recovered from Solyndra. The solar panels developed by the company were claimed to be unlike any other product ever tried in the industry. The panels were made of racks of cylindrical tubes (also called tubular solar panels), as opposed to traditional flat panels. Although the company was once touted for its unusual technology, plummeting silicon prices led to the company being unable to compete with more conventional solar panels. On September 1, 2011, the company ceased all business activity, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and laid off all employees leaving behind 24 million glass tubes in San Jose, California destined to be destroyed.

Deep in the garden, SOL Grotto looks from the outside like nothing more than a lopsided blue shed built next to a small waterfall.

But inside, the artists have taken exactly 1,368 Solyndra tubes and arranged them in undulating geometric patterns.

Each of the six-foot-long tubes passes through the grotto’s wall, with one end outside in the sunshine, and the other inside the darkened room; because the glass (manufactured in Germany to Solyndra’s highly technical specifications) has advanced light-conducting properties, their circular ends seem to glow magically.

Here’s a video of the glowing tubes in the SOL Grotto exhibit:

If you’re interested in a traditional review of the entire Natural Discourse installation, the Endless Swarm blog has a good overview, and has this to say about SOL Grotto:

“SOL Grotto”, by Ronald Rael & Virginia San Fratello, was a delightful meditation on perception. Situated above Strawberry Creek, the dark wooden bunker is pierced with hundreds of glass pipes cozened from local ex-company Solyndra. Tiny snippets of the world outside can be discerned through the tubes, making one feel like they’re inside the compound eye of an insect.

Several people throughout the afternoon came to inspect the exhibit; some may have been art lovers, but I suspect many were just curious to see for themselves the only surviving Legendary Lost Tubes of Solyndra.

Although the tubes when viewed as the artists intended do indeed have a hypnotic phosphorescence…

…when viewed from the side, the magic suddenly disappears. You’re jolted back to reality and realize that you’re just looking at nothing more than simple tubes of glass stuck in some plywood. Kind of a metaphor for Solyndra itself: solar technology which may have seemed magical at first, but when viewed realistically turned out to be not that special.

The back side of the “grotto” shed reveals just how long the tubes really are, as the outer half of each tube reaches to catch the sunshine. I’m surprised that a curious bird or falling branch has not yet broken some of the exposed glasswork.

There are many ironies to this postmodern repurposing of scavenged Solyndra tubes, but perhaps the most bizarre is this:

The Solyndra loan guarantees were given largely at the urging of Steven Chu, appointed by Obama in 2009 to head the Department of Energy. Chu was recruited to the DOE from his position as director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, where he directed research into alternative energy sources.

And where exactly is the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory? In the hills above the U.C. Berkeley campus, directly across the road from the U.C. Botanical Garden. In fact, Steven Chu’s former office is only about a thousand yards from the SOL Grotto exhibit itself, as this aerial view reveals:

Is it a sheer coincidence that the few surviving repurposed Solyndra tubes ended up just a stone’s throw from the former office of the one person most responsible for the Solyndra debacle? Or was this detail part of the artists’ subtle sarcastic commentary?

(Answer: It’s probably just a coincidence. The lead artist, Ronald Rael, is also an assistant professor at U.C. Berkeley, and is most famous for designing an alternative vision for the fence between Mexico and the United States specifically intended to mock and disparage the concept of national borders. Only someone with “progressive” politics could come up with an idea like Rael’s “burrito wall,” and he’s therefore unlikely to disparage a fellow progressive like Chu.)

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A Typical Day in Berkeley

August 2nd, 2012 - 2:24 pm

The other day I had some errands in Berkeley. So I hopped on BART (the Bay Area’s subway system) and rode into town.

Every trip to Berkeley is a dual-purpose event for me: whatever else is on my schedule, I always bring along a camera to record my impressions of the day. And since street protests are few and far between this year, the only thing left to photograph is daily life.

Berkeley may look like a normal town at first glance. But if you have a keen eye for details and a shutter-happy index finger, you begin notice those little things that make Berkeley unique.

So let’s take a trip to LiberalLand. The pictures you see here don’t constitute any sort of “official portrait” of Berkeley — they’re just the random scenes I encountered as I wended my way through the city on various errands.

[Note: All faces, license plate numbers and street addresses in this photo essay have been blurred or cropped, to respect people's privacy.]

My political journey began before I even got off the train. As we approached Berkeley, I noticed a fellow passenger reading a book by [Berkeley resident and left-wing economist] Robert Reich, while wearing a “We Are the 99%” Occupy Wall Street button. Needless to say, the guy got off at the Downtown Berkeley stop.

I’d only been in town a couple minutes before I encountered my first “only in Berkeley” moment: A car sporting a huge sign that announced “The root problem is that you have become A SELFISH PEOPLE.” I was a bit curious as to the exact meaning of this, but was fearful of approaching the car any closer lest I be accosted by the owner, something I hoped to avoid.

A nearby home had a “Beware of God” sign in the window.

I stopped by a cafe, only to find a member of Q.U.I.T — Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism — seated at a table, enjoyed the free wi-fi.

The front of her shirt had the other name for the same group, “Queers for Palestine.”

Q.U.I.T./Queers for Palestine is an ultra-radical lesbian political group that protests against the only nation in the Middle East where gays live freely with full rights, and in favor of a culture that outlaws homosexuality and violently persecutes gays. Are they insane? Yes. Did I find it a bit unnerving that such a political stance is considered so “normal” in Berkeley that people just stroll around on an average day wearing “Queers for Palestine” shirts? Yep.

Less than a block away I spotted “Boycott Israel” spray-painted on the sidewalk. Coincidence?

I don’t even want to know what this mess on the back of a nearby newspaper rack was supposed to mean. “2+2=5″ pretty much summed my impressions of the city so far.

Over the last four years I thought I had seen every single Obama sticker design ever manufactured. But until I spotted this on a car in Berkeley I had never encountered this particular bit of political iconography. Although the colors have faded a bit since 2008, the details were fascinating: Obama has gigantic hands, and is releasing doves and butterflies from (incomprehensibly) a cupboard drawer, surrounded by people literally praying to him, including someone in a full-body cat suit next to someone with a Muslim skullcap and another guy giving the black power salute.

But not everyone in Berkeley is so enthusiastic about Obama. The city has plenty of Obama opponents — but they’re all attacking him from the left, as evidenced by the sentiments on this truck, in which Obama is equated with the evil Bush.

This was actually my favorite bumper of the whole day. The futility, pointlessness and fleeting-but-soon-forgotten enthusiasm of each campaign season is so poignantly illustrated by the layers peeling off, 2008′s Obama sticker so poorly made that 2004′s Kerry sticker is already re-emerging. Most hearteningly, there was no 2012 sticker on top of the 2008 sticker.

I literally laughed out loud a few hours later when I saw this “We Are the 99%” sign on a house in a very pricey neighborhood in the Berkeley hills. Although you might not be able to tell due to the weed-choked front yard, homes in this area are famously expensive. Out of curiosity, I noted down the address and later looked up the home’s estimated assessed value on one of those real estate property records Web sites: $1.2 million.

Nothing better illustrates the deep-seated hypocrisy and cognitive dissonance of the Berkeley worldview than someone who lives in a $1.2 million home imagining that they are part of “the 99%.” Berkeleyans are in general quite highly paid and well-off, but they are ashamed of their success, and so pretend to be poor. Not so ashamed that they actually give up their privilege, mind you: it’s much easier to put a “We Are the 99%” sign in the window of your mansion than it is to actually experience any hardship.

While we’re on the hypocrisy theme, take a look at this Mazda 5 parked on a Berkeley street. What’s the problem? Look more closely at the bumper…

…where you’ll see a “Be Green” sticker. Nothing wrong with having an average mpg MPV — that is, until you start lecturing all passersby about “being green.” Berkeleyans want the convenience and luxury of modern civilization, but not the remorse of being a polluting high-end American consumer that necessarily accompanies that convenience. Solution? A “Be Green” sticker on your exhaust-belching machine! Problem solved. (See The Concourse of Hypocrisy for more details.)

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President Obama’s instantly infamous “You didn’t build that” speech is a major turning point of the 2012 election not because it was a gaffe but because it was an accurate and concise summary of core progressive fiscal dogma. It was also a political blunder of epic proportions because in his speech Obama unintentionally proved the conservatives’ case for limited government.

This essay will show you how.

When Obama implied at the Roanoke, Virginia rally that some businessmen refuse to pay for public works from which they benefit, he presented a thesis which, like a three-legged stool, relies on three assumptions that must all be true for the argument to remain standing:

1. That the public programs he mentioned in his speech constitute a significant portion of the federal budget;
2. That business owners don’t already pay far more than their fair share of these expenses; and
3. That these specific public benefits are a federal issue, rather than a local issue.

If any of these legs fails, then the whole argument collapses.

For good measure, we won’t just kick out one, we’ll kick out all three.

“Small Government” Is Not the Same as “No Government”

Progressives critique the fiscal conservative/Tea Party/libertarian position by purposely misrepresenting it as anarchy. When fiscal conservatives say “We want smaller government,” progressives reply, “Oh, so you want no government?”

“Government” in this particular discussion is shorthand for “communal pooling of resources for mutual benefit.”

Fiscal conservatives have never called for no government — that’s the anarchist position, and contemporary anarchism is actually dominated by extreme leftists, not extreme conservatives. Instead, fiscal conservatives clearly and consistently call for limited government, or for smaller government — but not for the absence of government altogether.

So when President Obama and his mentor Elizabeth Warren justify their call for tax hikes by pointing out that all entrepreneurs benefit from communal infrastructure, they’re committing the classic Straw Man Fallacy by arguing against anarchy — a position that their opponents do not hold.

Here’s the shocking truth: President Obama and Elizabeth Warren are correct — we all benefit from certain taxpayer-funded collectivist government infrastructure projects and programs. And here’s the other shocking truth: Therefore, we should limit government expenditures to just those programs. Why? Because most of the other government programs either

• hinder, constrict or penalize entrepreneurial activity; or
• benefit some people to the detriment of others; or
• waste money on bureaucracy, overhead or ill-considered expenditures that end up indebting the nation and by extension all Americans.

Below are videos and transcripts of Obama’s speech as well as the Elizabeth Warren speech that inspired it. First watch or read both speeches, and then we’ll list all of the programs that they both mention, and see what percentage of our taxes goes toward those programs.

Obama’s Speech

Here is Obama’s game-changing speech from Friday, July 13 in Roanoke, Virginia:

And here’s the transcript:

There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me — because they want to give something back. They know they didn’t — look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there. (Applause.)

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.

Warren’s Speech

And here’s Elizabeth Warren’s original 2011 speech, upon which Obama’s was based:

And the transcript:

There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there — good for you!

But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea — God bless. Keep a big hunk of it.

But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.

OK, now that we have both speeches in front of us, let us list the exact government programs and projects that Obama and Warren use to justify their position:

Education (Obama: “There was a great teacher somewhere in your life.” Warren: “You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate.”)
Transportation (Obama: “Somebody invested in roads and bridges.” Warren: “You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for.”)
Public Safety (Warren: “You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for.” Obama: “There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own.”)
The Internet (Obama: “Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.”)

…and that’s it.

OK. Fine. Let’s absolutely concede this point to Obama and Warren: There are some government activities that benefit us all, including business owners.

And for the sake of argument let’s just allow for a moment that the federal government is the best, most efficient and only supplier of these benefits. You win, Elizabeth and Barack.

But having conceded this central point, let us now ask the key follow-up question, which is the first leg of their three-point hypothesis: What percentage of the federal budget is devoted to these universally beneficial public works?

And if you’re a progressive reading this, you’d better get off the stool because it’s about to fall down.

The Numbers

Here is the federal government’s budgetary breakdown for a recent fiscal year:

What percentage of this is devoted to education, transportation, public safety, and creating the Internet (i.e. basic research)?

I’m going to be as generous as possible to the progressive position and include ALL of defense spending in their column, since defense aids both basic research and public safety. Highways and roads are covered by the Department of Transportation. The Department of Education covers, well, education. And various other smaller departments — Department of Justice, National Science Foundation, etc. — contribute in varying degrees to public safety, research, and so forth.

Ready? Here we go:

Below is a list of all government expenditures, with Obama’s and Warren’s “public benefit” programs highlighted:

Social Security 19.63%
Department of Defense 18.74%
Unemployment/welfare/other mandatory spending 16.13%
Medicare 12.79%
Medicaid and SCHIP 8.19%
Interest on the national debt 4.63%
Health and Human Services 2.22%
Department of Transportation 2.05%
Department of Veteran’s Affairs 1.48%
Department of State 1.46%
Department of Housing and Urban Development 1.34%
Department of Education 1.32%
Other on-budget discretionary spending (1.8%): $149.67
Other off-budget discretionary spending (1.3%): $108.10
Department of Homeland Security 1.21%
Department of Energy 0.74%
Department of Agriculture 0.73%
Department of Justice 0.67%
NASA 0.53%
Department of Commerce 0.39%
Department of Labor 0.38%
Department of Treasury 0.38%
Department of the Interior 0.34%
EPA 0.30%
Social Security Administration 0.27%
National Science Foundation 0.20%
Corps of Engineers 0.14%
National Infrastructure Bank 0.14%
Corporation for National and Community Service 0.03%
Small Business Administration 0.02%
General Services Administration 0.02%
Other agencies 0.56%
Other off-budget discretionary spending 2.97%

So, let’s clear away the irrelevant government expenditures and list just the ones noted by Obama and Warren:

Department of Defense 18.74%
Department of Transportation 2.05%
Department of Education 1.32%
Department of Homeland Security 1.21%
Department of Justice 0.67%
National Science Foundation 0.20%

TOTAL: 23.4%

And that, of course, is being absurdly generous to the Obama position, since in reality huge portions of the defense budget, the Department of Education budget, and so on, have basically nothing to do with promoting public safety or educating workers. And let’s be even more generous and round that 23.4% up to 25%, or one-fourth of the budget.

So what Obama and Warren are really stating is this:

Only one-fourth of your federal tax dollars go to projects and programs that benefit the general public and entrepreneurs; the other three-fourths are essentially a complete waste, or are at best optional.

Which of course is exactly what fiscal conservatives have been arguing all along.

So yeah, I agree with Obama: Let’s slash the federal budget by 75%, and only fund services and programs that directly serve the public good.

The first leg of their argument has snapped, and the stool has toppled over. Since the essential programs aiding “the commons” are only a small percentage of an overall bloated budget, we don’t need to raise taxes to fund them.

And now for the second leg.

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