Thursday, July 31, 2008

buck up, alaskans

Alaskans are fretting about what will happen to their bottomless pork barrel if Ted Stevens long and dishonorable career comes to an end.

Boo hoo. I thought Alaskans were proud of being on the last frontier, of getting away from the soft, effeminate features of civilization and living a life of rugged independence. Instead, they go squealing to the Federal Government, through their two Senators and their Congressman Don Young (Young was the architect of the Bridge to Nowhere, not Stevens as I mistakenly wrote yesterday) to get those lazy soft taxpayers in places line New York City and Miami and Houston and Los Angeles and Topeka to pay for their perks. Alaskans get way more federal subsidies than the rest of us. Just in the past 4 years, they got something like $4800 per capita in earmarks alone, compared to $263 for us who were not "blessed" with Stevens' and Young's "leadership". And that doesn't even include the cash Alaskans get from the state government for oil.

So long Ted. Alaskans, buck up. I thought you were tough.


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

ted's farewell begins

So unsurprisingly Republican Senator Ted Stevens, advocate of Bridges to Nowhere and other pork projects for Alaska, has been indicted for failing to report on all the free work an Alaska oil company (Veco) was doing on his luxury home near Anchorage. He denies doing anything wrong of course. But he's lucky not to be indicted for taking bribes, since while Veco was doing the work, he was handing out contracts.

Hope this marks the beginning of the end for Stevens. First, he could lose in the GOP primary coming up. Then, he could still lose to the Democratic candidate in November. Either way, getting this aging corrupt pocket-lining obstructionist gas-bag out of the Senate will be a clear example of addition by subtraction. Would that it had happened 20 years earlier.


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

not alone

It is no surprise that the Department of Justice's investigation found that Monica Goodling made hiring decisions based on naked partisanship. Conservative Republican? Hired. Practically anybody else? Sorry, we only want "good Americans" at Bush's Justice Department.

But surely nobody believes that Goodling acted alone on this impulse? Yet somehow this article neglects to mention whether DOJ's investigation named anybody else. I suspect it did not - they're throwing Goodling overboard to save their own bacon.


Sunday, July 27, 2008

it's in the stars

Big news - in August (11-12 peak) the Perseids meteor showers will be even more spectacular than usual because we will be passing through the tail of Comet Swift-Tuttle!

So let's analyze this, shall we? First, it isn't the first time Earth has passed through a comet's tail. It hasn't killed us before, so I like the odds of us surviving this one - though Gregg Easterbrook's article in a recent issue of The Atlantic - republished here - about how many scientists now believe the odds of being hit by Something Big Enough To Wipe Out Humanity, or At Least A Significant Chunk of It, are much much higher than believed before certainly made me contemplate the stars with a little more trepidation.

Anyway, I think we'll survive the Perseids and Comet Swift-Tuttle. So continuing the analysis, what will the effects be on the Presidential election, the Beijing Olympics, and the international oil markets?

I think it will give McCain a bump. It will make some superstitious religious types afraid of God's wrath just a bit more, and those types tend to flock to the party of superstition and religion, the Republican Party, which believes in divine providence, supply-side economics, and other baseless fallacies.

It will help the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and Liberia win more medals because all of those countries have stars on their flags.

And it will make Peak Oil come that little bit closer to reality because of all the gasoline people will waste driving out into the countryside to get a good look at the meteors, away from blinding city lights.


Saturday, July 26, 2008

let the market punish failure?

So many laissez-faire, free market, anti-regulation types insist that the market will punish companies that make poor quality goods and are otherwise in some way inadequate. They like to criticize the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for being anti-business and un-American. Some of the more extreme types call OSHA a "fascist" organization made up of "safety nazis" that force unreasonable edicts upon our saintly private sector. Just for fun, you know.

So they probably don't like the recent announcement by OSHA to recommend fining Imperial Sugar $8.7 million for its unfair safety practices that led to the explosion in February that killed 13 people. OSHA says Imperial knew about the dangers at that plant since 2002 and did nothing to fix them. And on top of that, even after the explosion in Savannah, Imperial let its sugar refinery in Louisiana operate with the same hazardous conditions - sugar dust 4 to 5 FEET thick! - until OSHA force them to close IT down before it blew a bunch of workers to kingdom come.

Personally, it would seem unwise to me to disregard safety to such an extent that your sugar refineries are blowing up. I mean, that destroys productive capacity, right? Oh, and it kills people, too.

Maybe Imperial thought it would never happen to them - an explosion, I mean. That would just make them stupid. Or they figured hey, the cost isn't worth it so we'll go along with the risk. After all, Imperial executives and lawyers don't have to work in those plants...

This isn't the sort of behavior that the market will correct. Sure, in the long run if enough sugar plants blow up, people might become reluctant to work there. For a while, at least. Fact is of course, all sorts of dangerous jobs are still out there and still getting applicants because of the economic realities many people face - that might be the only job in the area they can get.

I hope OSHA's decision sticks, although $8.7 seems too a small fine to me. But Imperial will appeal of course.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

should somebody like this be allowed to drive?

That's the question after the stunning revelation that Bob Novak had hit a pedestrian in Washington, DC.

Should somebody like this be allowed to drive?  No - I'm not referring to right-wingers newspaper columnists.  I doubt there is any evidence demonstrating that they are worse drivers than the population at large.

I mean, 77-year-olds.  That's how old Novak is.  Now, Novak says he didn't even know he'd hit Don Lilkinquist until a cyclist overtook him and told him.  

That's entirely possible.  And there are a couple of possible explanations.  One is that, at 77, Novak doesn't have the vision and reflexes to drive safely any more.  This isn't to single Novak out - it is a valid question for ANY 77-year old.  Or, as a connected Washington insider, it is possible that Novak was driving while talking on the cellphone, a practice that makes drivers as or even more impaired than a drunk driver.

So, let's open the investigation.  Witnesses, was Novak on the phone?  Because DEFINITELY somebody like that should not be allowed to drive.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

give mccain a break

I don't think that slipping up by referring to Czechoslovakia or the Iraq-Indian border is necessarily a sign of senility for John McCain.  I make slips like that all the time and I am way the hell younger than McCain.  Yes, I think 72 is too old to become President ... but these slips of the tongue in themselves don't convince me.  If McCain makes more serious blunders, then that's a different question.

And this story about a donor to McCain's campaign who was committing some sort of fraud is interesting - but I wouldn't hold McCain's campaign too culpable for this sort of thing.  Same for the Obama campaign.  Of course, the whole issue of having people raise lots of money for campaigns is a real topic of concern...


Saturday, July 19, 2008

we're borrowing money from china to buy oil from the persian gulf to burn it in ways that destroy the planet

What's interesting about Al Gore's challenge to quit burning coal and oil to generate electricity in 10 years are the reactions.  John McCain just says, "if the vice president says it's doable, I believe it's doable."  Not exactly climate change denying, there.   Barack Obama also points out that this challenge would CREATE many new jobs.

Can we do it in 10 years?  Beats me.  But it's worth a shot.  After all, it isn't just climate change, as Gore himself made clear in saying  "We're borrowing money from China to buy oil from the Persian Gulf to burn it in ways that destroy the planet."  As he said, all of this has to change.  And even if we don't get to 100%, any progress would be more than we've seen under de facto President George Oil Bush.


Friday, July 18, 2008

the bogus uses of terrorism

Two otherwise unrelated articles demonstrate the way that American law enforcement and military types are over-reacting to terrorism and/or using the terrorist threat to justify behavior and actions that clearly have nothing to do with what any rational person would call "terrorism."

First, the scarier story.  Maryland State Police officers under former Governor Robert Ehrlich infiltrated dangerous organizations on the grounds of fighting terrorism.  The groups?  Not some shadowy Islamic cell or even unreconstructed Irish Republican Army financiers.  Nope, we're talking about anti-war groups and peace protesters and anti-capital punishment groups.  The Maryland cops even put a famous peace activist called Max Obuszewski (a 63-year old man, not the typical terrorist profile) into a criminal database.  Max was categorized as an anti-government terrorist and a terrorist anti-war protester.  No evidence of the "terrorist" part; apparently being anti-government and anti-war is enough to make you a "terrorist" automatically.

And ACLU lawyer David Rocah said it best:  "To invest this many hours investigating the most all-American of activities without any scintilla of evidence there is anything criminal going on is shocking.  It's Kafkaesque."  It is a real threat to our civil liberties - investigating people for their political views only, with not one shred of evidence of any meaningful threat to anybody.

The other one is less dangerous, but emblematic of the gross waste of counter-terrorism funds.   The Air Force is building luxury compartments in its airplanes for its top generals and civilian politicians.  That in itself is just military waste, something we are familiar with.  And the cost of these nifty little compartments, to be decorated befitting the rank of the occupants including 37" TV screens, is coming in more than expected, again a surprise on the order of the sun rising in the east.

But the Air Force has tried to tap anti-terror funds to pay for it.  I guess on the grounds that these generals and politicians to spend time thinking about countering terrorism.  If we have money like this available for plush first-class airplane beds, perhaps we could spend it more wisely?  Or could realize that we'd be better off spending money to improve the capacity of our public health system to respond to mass casualties or mass illness than frittering it away on Air Force beds and chemical suits for some small town in Iowa that can't even afford to train its people how to use these suits.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

bush's climate change plan

Tom Toles has it right again. Sigh.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

a salvadoran savior

I've heard of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who saved thousands of Jews during World War II before disappearing after being arrested by the Soviets. And I've heard about the Japanese diplomat, Chiune Sugihara, who with his wife Yukiko defied orders from Tokyo and issued Japanese visas to Jews that enabled them to leave Nazi-dominated Europe; they are credited with saving perhaps 6000 lives.

But I had never heard of José Arturo Castellanos. Until I read this moving account. To summarize, Castellanos was a Salvadoran diplomat who served in several European capitals before and during the war. He became friends with a Hungarian Jew called George Mandel. After the situation of Jews in Europe became perilous because of Nazi domination, Castellanos issued papers making Mandel appear to be another diplomat from El Salvador. The two of them went on to issue thousands of passports to Jews - charging little or nothing - "proving" that they were Salvadoran citizens and therefore gaining protection from the Nazi thugs and the death camps. Castellanos and Mandel, and the Salvadoran consulate in Switzerland, in particular picked up the pace of issuing documents after the Nazis invaded Hungary and began rounding up that country's Jews.

And now El Salvador is campaigning to have Castellanos recognized as "Righteous Among the Nations" by Yad Vashem.

Apparently, Castellanos didn't tell people after the war what he had done. When his daughter learned of his actions shortly before he died, she asked why he hadn't told anyone.

Castellanos said, "Because anybody in my position would have done the same thing."

Unfortunately, that is not true. But Castellanos is an inspiration, and scholars estimate he may have saved as many as 30,000 lives.

Monday, July 14, 2008

no need to speculate about speculation

Despite what many politicians - unfortunately including many Democrats - the reason for $4/gallon gasoline isn't "speculation." Really, it isn't - even Robert Novak realizes this.

Folks, it's simple - supply and demand. Supply isn't growing as quickly as demand, which is based both on growth in places like China and India and by the growth in SUVs and other gas-guzzlers here in the US of A.

And honestly, as much as it sucks to see the bill at the pumps when you fill up, this is overall a Good Thing. It's like a little carbon tax to get things started on where we as a species need to go on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The worst thing about $4/gallon gas? That it didn't happen 10 years ago.

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Sunday, July 13, 2008

there is no monolothic islamic terrorist enemy

De facto President George W. Bush and his allies in the GOP have ever since 9/11 tried to puff up "international terrorism" into an existential threat similar to that posed by the Soviet Union and world communism.

Well it isn't. A good piece from former CIA analyst Glenn Carle about how we have grossly overstated the capacity and indeed ambition of various localized Muslim terror groups around the planet.


when is a person a person?

Some anti-abortion activists in Colorado are going to pose just that question on a ballot issue this November. Specifically, they will ask voters to agree that an egg becomes a person from the moment it is fertilized.

Personally, I don't think somebody is really a person until about his or her 10th birthday...

Saturday, July 12, 2008

welcoming big brother

I remember the old movies where devices that could tell others exactly where you are at all times were considered bad things. But people nowadays love these cool new devices that can let your friends know where you are - even if you told your one friend you would be studying at the library when in fact you had a better offer and were actually at a movie in the next country.

And it even creates PERMANENT records of where you were at any given time, all through your nifty new iPhone. Now sure, if you lead a completely blameless life that's fine. But do you really want it known that on those Sunday afternoons when you told your significant other that you were volunteering at the homeless shelter, you were actually across town at a high-stakes poker game? Or worse yet, showing that you were at the home of your "special" friend, or a bar, or a Narcotics Anonymous meeting site?

Plus, honestly I really mean it when I say that I do NOT want to make it easier for advertisers to "target" me.

Big Brother is here, and we LIKE it.

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Friday, July 11, 2008

last gasp opposition

So, despite scientific evidence that strongly supports the proposition that climate change will be deleterious to human health, the de facto Bush Administration won't act. Despite the Supreme Court's ruling that under terms of the Clean Air Act, the federal government is obliged to regulate the emission of greenhouse gasses, the de facto Bush Administration won't act. It's official: the EPA ain't gonna do a thing to regulate these emissions until Obama or McCain is inaugurated next January.

This is hardly suprising. The Bushies (and the behind-the-scene masters on energy policy issues, Dick Cheney and his office) have been shortsightedly skeptical about climate change all along. An Administration that refuses to even recognize Congress' right to call its officials before them to ask questions clearly has no problems refusing to recognize that it has any obligation to obey duly passed laws of the country, not even when reinforced by clear-cut Supreme Court rulings.

The refusal of the White House and OMB to open emails from EPA officials is sadly comical; the fact that this footdragging has cost us - the people of planet Earth - eight years of delay in trying to act to mitigate the worst effects of climate change is frighteningly tragic.

Bush's shredding of the Constitution and introduction of torture as an instrument of national policy are impeachable offenses. But his acting to prevent action on climate
change is truly a crime against humanity.


Thursday, July 10, 2008

use some common sense folks...

I didn't even realize these scam "gasoline additives that will improve your mileage" things were still going around. But in this era of $4/gallon gas, they clearly are.

Before you blow $40 on a little bottle of this miraculous product ask yourself - if this stuff works, why do you only hear about it in spam emails or on dubious websites? Why aren't the makers of this stuff mass marketing this and making big big bucks.

Answer: because they DON'T WORK.

The rule is simple: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Like "missile defense." Or "compassionate conservative."

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

unsurprisingly, cheney interferes again

This report, that the office of de facto Vice President Dick Cheney, prevented the Director of the Center for Disease Control from discussing the possible damage to human health from climate change in her testimony before Congress, is interesting.

But completely unsurprising of course. The VP and his tight little office operation have already shown their willingness to browbeat other parts of the Administration from saying things that Cheney disagrees with. Climate change and energy are just particularly frequent targets of the Cheney truth squad.

The White House of course defends itself from such interference by claiming the science is unclear and all that. Which of course does not stop it from asserting confidently that science it and its supporters like is crystal-clear. Such as the physics behind shooting bullets with bullets in the ongoing porkathon known as missile defense...

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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

not enough yet...

The G-8 leaders have pledged to cut greenhouse gases by 50% by 2050 - yes, even de facto President George Bush.

It's true as environmental groups say that this is not going to be enough. It's true that the US hasn't backed off its other promise to stop growth in our greenhouse gas emissions by 2025.

But at least these people -even BUSH - are committing to cuts. So when the even deeper cuts are needed, people will at least be vaguely aware that this isn't just for fun and games, but is part of an effort to, among other things, save civilization...

We've already bought a whole bunch of climate change so we've got to focus on mitigation. But the best mitigation is to cut emissions to avoid even worse changes.


Monday, July 07, 2008

marc thiessen puts lipstick on the pig that we call jesse helms' "legacy"

I was away from the interwebs when the news came across that former right-wing Senator Jesse Helms had died. So I was unable to say that America would have been better off if Helms, the personification of the Republican Party's cynical resort to nake racism for political game, had been hit by a bus in 1940 or so. (No, that isn't a very nice sentiment. But unlike Republican types, at least I wish it had been an accident, instead of calling retrospectively for his assassination.)

Anyway, current speechwriter for the de facto Bush White House Marc Thiessen takes exception to some of the less than glowing coverage of the late racist's inglorious career. Thiessen, who the Post reminds us worked for Helms for six years, walks us through what he sees as Helms' legacy here (with my comments italicized):

"As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Helms led the successful effort to bring Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic into the NATO alliance. (Coincidence does not equal causation. Senate chairman are always claiming credit for stuff that was actually done by the President...) He secured passage of bipartisan legislation to protect our men and women in uniform from the International Criminal Court. (True. Maybe not good though.) He won overwhelming approval for his legislation to support the Cuban people in their struggle against a tyrant. (Helms is unfortunately not alone in holding responsibility for continuing the absurd and self-defeating American embargo on Cuba, although he played a leading role. Conservatives were confident that engagement with apartheid South Africa would bring around change - but not with Cuba? Was that because they felt comfortable engaging with racists?) He won majority support in the Senate for his opposition to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. (Too bad.) He helped secure passage of the National Missile Defense Act and stopped the Clinton administration from concluding a new anti-ballistic missile agreement in its final months in office -- paving the way for today's deployment of America's first defenses against ballistic missile attack. (In other words, Helms helped secure passage for a program that does not work - and probably will NEVER work effectively, unless you think a system that allows a third of incoming missiles to deliver nuclear warheads against American cities? This is massive corporate welfare for the arms industry.) He helped secure passage of the Iraq Liberation Act, which expressed strong bipartisan support for regime change in Baghdad. (And we see how swimmingly THAT has gone.) He secured broad, bipartisan support to reorganize the State Department (true if you believe "starving it of resources" equates to effective reform) and bring much-needed reform to the United Nations, and he became the first legislator from any nation to address the UN Security Council -- a speech few in that chamber will forget. (That just proves that Helms was obnoxious enough to cow the UNSC into letting him speak, for fear that he would again cut off US funding.)"

Thiessen is basically right when he writes, "What his critics could not appreciate is that, by the time he left office, Jesse Helms had become a mainstream conservative. And it was not because Helms had moved toward the mainstream -- it was because the mainstream moved toward him."

At least the mainstream of the Republican Party had moved toward him. Toward a nasty, vindictive man who preferred destruction and obstructionism to effective government, who delighted in cutting social programs while throwing more cash at defense contractors often for programs even the Pentagon didn't want, who was happy to make openly racist statements and run racist advertisements to win re-election - yes, very much a mainstream Republican kind of guy.

Helms was not solely responsible for this movement over the past 40 years. In varying degrees, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay, and others deserve "credit" for this. But Helms was a big part of the movement.


Friday, July 04, 2008

incoherent on the economy, and incompetent in the job market

Incoherent on the Economy...

Dana Milbank makes fun of Treasury suit Phillip Swagel, who had the unenviable task of trying to talk up the economy at a Treasury briefing after the latest bad batch of numbers had come out. More jobs lost, inflation (fueled by non-stop rate cuts by the Fed trying to prop up growth) on the verge of breaking out, poor consumer confidence - and don't forget, economic numbers have been cooked over the years to look less bad than they really are - not an easy job for Swagel, who was rather incoherent in his briefing. Which is refreshing because it reflects the de facto Bush Administration's incoherence on the economy.

And an Incompetent on the Job Market

He's back! Serial liar Alberto Gonzales has been popping up lately. He spoke at a graduation in the US Virgin Islands - and got to the beach too, no doubt, wondering whether body parts from torture victims at Guantanamo ever floated by on a Caribbean wave. And he was at a baseball game, doing some sort of commentary. Al Kamen speculates that Gonzales' op-ed in the Los Angeles Times is an audition for a new role - Pontificator on Hispanic Issues.

Wow - I guess Gonzales is recovering from the premature memory loss that so plagued his days as Attorney General.