Wednesday, December 31, 2008

the top ten myths about iraq, 2008 version

Juan Cole has his top 10 myths about Iraq, 2008 version. Read his post for all the details; the list is below.

Top Ten Myths about Iraq, 2008

1. Iraqis are safer because of Bush's War. Um, no. Read Juan Cole.

2. Large numbers of Iraqis in exile abroad have returned. Not true. Read Juan Cole.

3. Iraqis are materially better off because of Bush's war. No way. Read Juan Cole.

4. The Bush administration scored a major victory with its Status of Forces Agreement. They wish; fact is we're being booted out. Read Juan Cole.

5. Minorities in Iraq are safer since Bush's invasion. Oh so very false. Read Juan Cole.

6. The sole explanation for the fall in the monthly death rate for Iraqi civilians was the troop excalation or surge of 30,000 extra US troops in 2007. Simplistic and inaccurate, oh and also wrong. Read Juan Cole.

7. John McCain alleged that if the US left Iraq, it would be promptly taken over by al-Qaeda. You'll be surprised to know John McCain is wrong wrong wrong. Read Juan Cole.

8. The Iraq War made the world safer from terrorism. Au contraire, Iraq is now a major training ground for terrorists, which it wasn't before March 2003. Read Juan Cole.

9. Bush went to war in Iraq because he was given bad intelligence about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction capabilities. No, the intelligence was just the de facto Bush administration's EXCUSE to go to war. Read Juan Cole.

10. Douglas Feith and other Neoconservatives didn't really want a war with Iraq (!). Outrageously, blatantly, and intentionally misleadingly, history-revisingly false. Pushing a war with Iraq was the Neocons' pet project in the 1990s. Again, Read Juan Cole.

In conclusion, believe nothing the de facto Bush administration, the Republican Party, and the right-wing noise machine say about Iraq. Oh, and be sure to read Juan Cole..

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

bush's reading habits

Republican political operative turned "journalist" Karl Rove claims that de facto President George W. Bush has read a lot of books. In fact, Rove said Bush read 95 books in 2006, 51 in 2007, and (so far) 40 in 2008.

And it's heavy stuff, too, says Rove: stuff like Ulysses Grant's "Personal Memoirs," Andrew Roberts's long "A History of the English Speaking Peoples Since 1900," and "The Stranger" by Camus for chrissakes.

Oh, plus Rove says Bush read the Bible EVERY year.

Personally, I don't believe it. Seriously, I don't. That pace is more than a book a week - and the Bible is one long book (even if you DO skim all the crap about dietary restrictions and who begat who in the Old Testament). Doesn't the (de facto) President of the United States have more to do than read? I mean, when he's back in Crawford on his extended vacations he seems to spend all his time clearing cedar and riding his bike. He gets a good long work-out in every day. So doesn't he have a shit-load of meetings and briefing books and the like to get through every day? I mean, Bush is always telling us how hard his job is.

Oh wait, I forgot that Dick Cheney actually did most of the REAL work. Hell, it's quite possible Bush read 91 meaty books in 2006. If I could read on the job, I'd get that many books read in a year, too.

But really, what's the point of Rove's bizarre little column. This penultimate sentence is the clue: For two terms in the White House, Mr. Bush has been in the arena, keeping America safe and facing down enormous challenges, all the while acting with dignity.

This is part of the ongoing effort, evidenced by Laura and Condi and Bush himself all blathering on about history, to burnish Bush's pathetic record as the President of the United States, as he gets ready to leave the White House. I suppose this is supposed to make us thing Bush is smart.

Anybody with enought time and a high school education can read books. The rest of Bush's record is what will consign him to the short list for Worst President Ever.


jim webb on prisons

I missed this but Virginia Senator Jim Webb (D) wants to reform American prisons. He notes a lot of problems - incarceration rates that put us in the same range as China, young blacks being in prison disproportionately, too many people in prison for little things like parole violation or holding drugs while violent offenders are out on the street.

Webb is no bleeding-heart liberal. He's identified a lot of problems. The prison-industrial complex will no doubt oppose him - hey, if you are running a for-profit prison, every guy put in prison for being found with pot while on parole is a revenue source. The so-called law & order types and people who are still convinced (despite ALL evidence to the contrary) that locking people up and seizing property without due process is the only way to keep us all safe from the scourge of illegal drugs will also no doubt oppose any reform efforts with scare tactics and innuendo that Webb is soft on criminals. But I wish Webb luck - this is a battle worth fighting.

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Monday, December 29, 2008

"just say no"

Scholars at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health studied teens who took the virginity pledge (i.e., no sex before marriage) and compared them to other teens who didn't. They chose non-pledging teens with the same characteristics as the pledgers - religious, and similar attitudes about sex and other things.

And the results? The kids who just said no were just as likely to have premarital sex as the kids who didn't take a pledge.

That's too bad, right? It gets worse.

The pledge kids were significantly less likely to use condoms or other sorts of birth control than their similar but non-pledged counterparts.

So to sum it up... Asking kids to just say no makes no difference on whether they decide to do the horizontal bop before marriage. And it makes them more likely to risk disease and pregnancy by foregoing condoms.

Because condoms imply planning and it's one thing to give into those teenage hormones in the heat of the moment to do the nasty - but it's something else when you think far enough ahead to actually get some rubbers.

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oh, futility

The Detroit Lions finished 0-16. I'm not from Detroit, I'm not a Lions fan or a Lions hater, but I hate to see any team (with the possible exception of a team or two that I hate) finish winless like that.

Oh, and this should be a solid reminder that only fools put too much emphasis on a team's preseason performance - back in August, the Lions went undefeated.


risk and aig

Today the Washington Post ran part one of a three-parter on "The Crash: What Went Wrong." Today's installment was an interesting bit on the founding and early operations of the Financial Products people and their "beautiful machine" at insurance giant AIG - AIG of $150 billion bailout fame.

One passage in particular caught my eye:

One detail in particular nagged at (AIG CEO Hank) Greenberg. Under the joint-venture agreement, Financial Products received its profits upfront, even if the transactions took 30 years to play out. AIG would be on the hook if something went wrong down the road, not Sosin and his team, who took their pay immediately.

Later on, Greenberg changed that to defer some of their pay, based on the length of the transaction. He recognized the risk of encouraging short-term action - after all, who will still be there at the end of a 30-year transaction?

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

preventing crime, solving crime, experiencing crime

Preventing Crime

The worst thing about the sad story of Juan Fernando Gomez, who apparently has the misfortune of sharing a name with somebody who is on the US government's watch list and is ALWAYS pulled over at airports when he arrives in the US, is his concluding paragraph:

I heard rumors that the Terrorist Screening Center watch list would hit 1 million people by the end of 2008, but the TSA Web site states that the real number is actually closer to 400,000 and that there are fewer than 16,000 people on the "selectee" and "no-fly" lists used by the TSA. The site also asks, "Got Feedback?" Well, I have plenty of feedback, but I'm a little scared of the consequences of saying what I really feel.

It is bad that a guy like Gomez is afraid to give feedback. Watch lists are a sad but probably necessary part of modern life in the US. But first, the Feds have to get smarter about how they make and use the lists - we've all heard the stories about Senator Ted Kennedy being stopped frequently (must share a name with an Irish Republican Army member), or about four-year-old kids with common Arabic names being pulled aside for a closer look. That's bad. It's bad that the government won't even tell people why they are being given the extra scrutiny, though most of us can guess. But to be so intimidating and inflexible that a guy like Gomez - who is an international consultant working on Afghanistan and Pakistan - is afraid to give feedback is really stupid.

Solving Crime

Or not. They're getting away with murder. I don't mean the de facto Bush Administration, I mean actually murderers. Over 40% of cases in urban areas aren't being solved. Not reassuring.

Experiencing Crime

But this is one crime that will be solved easily. James Spruill and his family were seized at gunpoint, then forced into a car to go rob a bank. Spruill kept his cool, noticed a police car, swerved and got the cop's attention, and when the cop (with the excellent name of Barrington Cameron) walked up to the car, Spruill grabbed the gunman. That takes nerve!

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

republicans will be republicans

Republican political operative and apparently a candidate to head up the Republican National Committee, Chip Saltsman sent out a nifty holiday music CD this year as part of his holiday greetings to friends and committee members.

One of the songs - "Barack the Magic Negro," a political satire about, well you know who it's about, how many Baracks do YOU know?

Republicans, staying classy.


Thursday, December 25, 2008

be careful out there, samaritans

Because being a good Samaritan doesn't immunize you from lawsuits, at least not in California. So think twice about jumping in to help somebody, in case your intended beneficiary turns out litigious.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

a little dab of intolerance for christmas

The big dude in the Catholic world, Pope Benedict XVI, gave his Christmas address. And in it he said that fighting against gay marriage and gay relationships was as important as preserving the environment.

So from the Pope to the world, a little taste of intolerance for Christmas. And stupidity too - the so-called "threat" from gay marriage pales in comparison to what unmitigated climate change could mean for human civilization. Maybe the Pope and indeed the entire Catholic leadership should spend less time hyperventilating about gay sex (not to mention covering up for its own pedophiles) and pray for some sort of solution to climate change.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

sign of the times

Detroit being in trouble is not completely surprising. But when Toyota posts an operating loss for the first time in 70 years, that's news. It's a lousy environment for car makers right now. But at least Toyota knows its problems are cyclical, not structural.

Monday, December 22, 2008

one last cheney thing

De facto vice president (and de facto de facto president) Dick Cheney says he's right about how the vice presidency and indeed the whole unitary executive concept. And thinks Joe Biden is a wuss if he wants to weaken the VP job.

If "abide by the Constitution" = weaken the VP job, then yes I agree with Joe Biden, that would be a fine fine idea.


hasn't that been tried before?

So in the wake of worsening economic conditions countries like Russia and India and Brazil and Argentina and France, despite promises made at the G-20 summit in November, are moving to raise tariffs and otherwise increase protection for domestic industry.

Hasn't that been tried before? And how did THAT go?


Sunday, December 21, 2008

buzzwords 2008

The end of the year is always interesting as people compile various lists. Here Mark Leibovich and Grant Barrett have gathered the buzzwords of 2008.

Some of my favorites:

Caribou Barbie, aka Sarah Palin

Gas-sipper, the opposite of a gas-guzzler

Photobombing - "intentionally inserting oneself as an unwelcome subject in the background of someone else’s photograph." Hadn't heard that one before, but boy have I seen it in action.

DWT - driving while texting. Should be followed by a suspended license and $5000 fine. How to put this simply? "That's fucking dangerous, morons."

Naked shortselling - some financial thing but it sounds vaguely seedy

And one I don't like, "stag-deflation". It's defined as a "growing economy in which prices fall.". Well that's not what we've got - remember, recession since last December? This word is too trendy; the truly scary word is plan old "deflation."

And one that didn't qualify:

Vote suppression - the standard GOP strategy, which was unsuccessful this year.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

a vindictive bailout

You have to love the de facto Bush Administration. Even when doing something I basically agree with, given the current shaky state of the economy - providing $17 billion in loans to tide GM and Chrysler over until a new Congress and sane President take office - they manage to insert a nasty, vindictive, partisan element into it.

In this case, it is requiring the deep cuts in union wages and benefits. The corporate restructuring doesn't bother me - clearly that is needed. But GM and Chrysler are in this position largely because they failed to adapt to changing markets - they kept churning out SUVs and minivans without innovating and find themselves falling behind foreign car makers. But it wasn't the unions who made those poor decisions, was it? Nope.

No, this is simply a nice "fuck you" to the UAW for their support for Democratic candidates over the years. I'm guessing this deal, which is like giving a man dying of thirst a big glass of water but pissing in it first right before handing over the glass, won't make the UAW any more well disposed to the Republican Party.

Well, it may change anyway, since the Democrats don't seem to care for that.

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a trio of unrelated scandals

Three scandals, at different stages.

First, the end stage of a scandal. Former White House official David Safavian was convicted of obstructing justice and lying to investigators. This in connection with his good friend and former Mr. Young Republican, Jack Abramoff. Before being indicted, Safavian was in a good position to be cultivated - administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy...

Now, a scandal in its full glory. Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has vowed to fight them on the beaches, to fight them on the streets, to fight them in the hills, to never surrender. Sorry, briefly possessed by the spirit of Churchill. Governor Rod is proclaiming his defiance. Now, plenty of public figures say they will fight right before they give up. But you know, in this instance it's possible Blagojevich has a point. Look, he's crass, blunt, profane, and quite possibly stupid. But the idea of trading favors (guarantees of a nice job, assistance in raising campaign funds, etc) for a plum political is hardly new. I'm not sure it was a crime. We'll see what the feds have on him.

And a scandal that isn't quite a scandal, a scandal manqué. Remember Bristol Palin, the teenage-unwed-mother daughter of Sarah Palin? Well, her beau's mom Sherry Johnston has been arrested on drug charges. I learned during the candidacy of Winkin' Sarah that Wasilla is the meth capital of Alaska - but apparently Johnston was abusing Rush Limbaugh's favorite drug, Oxycontin so shouldn't she get the same sweetheart slap on the wrist old fat liar Rush got? I feel bad for her - if her son hadn't knocked up the daughter of the almost vice president of the United States, we wouldn't have heard of Johnston and this wouldn't be mentioned on page 7 of the Washington Post. Naturally, Mudflats has all the gory details.

But just think - we were THIS CLOSE (holds fingers really close together) to having a drug abuser present at a presidential inauguration. Gosh, that hasn't happened since de facto President George W. Bush was sworn in in January of 2004.

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Friday, December 19, 2008

promising news on climate policy?

Rumor has it that two prominent proponents of serious and quick action on climate are in line for senior jobs in the Obama Administration. Harvard physicist John Holdren is expected to be names as the president's science advisor, and Jane Lubchenco, a marine biologist at Oregon State, is in line to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Like Steve Chu, the Secretary of Energy nominee, "Holdren and Lubchenco have argued repeatedly for a mandatory limit on greenhouse gas emissions to avert catastrophic climate change."

Good news if true. Fingers crossed. Lubchenco said recently she thought public attitudes on climate are beginning to shift. I hope so.

Meanwhile, John Marburger, the science adviser to de facto President George W. Bush, is fighting a rearguard action against the perception that the Bush Administration has been anti-science. Marburger said, "There are stupid and foolish things that have been perpetrated by employees of the federal government in the executive branch, but it doesn't mean that the president is anti-science. The president is getting blamed for every little thing that happens that people don't like in the administration."

Hey, this is really not exactly the Harry Truman presidency, is it? The buck stops ANYWHERE but at the desk of George W. Bush. Torture? An aberration by a bunch of reservist MPs from West Virginia. (Since proven false.) Katrina? Nobody saw it coming. (Except lots of people DID see it coming, including the New Orleans Times-Picayune.) Science bashing? It was the President's minions.

Shades of Imperial Russia, where all the peasants assumed that the mistreatment they suffered at the hands of the Russian nobility and bureaucracy only happened because the Tsar didn't know about it.

Sorry, serfs - the Tsar knew and approved. And Bush knew and approved of all this stuff, too. And now he's trying to rehabilitate himself in his last 30-something days in office.

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three disparate deaths

Linked by nothing but their status as Americans and dieing within a few days of each other - Sammy Baugh, Paul Weyrich, and Mark Felt.

Weyrich is described as one of the founders of the modern American conservative movement. He helped establish the Heritage Foundation and was instrumental in beginning the transition of the 1970s business and Main Street Republican Party into its current Bible-thumping incarnation.

My mother always said I shouldn't say bad things about the departed, so I have nothing more to say.

No such problems about former Washington Redskins quarterback Sammy Baugh, who died aged 94. Baugh was like Babe Ruth in a way; Baugh didn't invent the forward pass any more than Ruth invented the home run, but they both revolutionized their sport by demonstrating the potential of their special abilities. Pro football after Slingin' Sammy was never quite the same - he helped end the grind-it-out, three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust era of football. Oh and he also punted AND played defense, in one year intercepting 11 passes in 10 games.

More on Baugh from Michael Wilbon and Tom Boswell. So long, Sammy.

And finally, former FBI deputy Mark Felt died aged 95. Felt is of course most famous for having been Deep Throat, Woodward and Bernstein's inside source on the illegal activities of the Nixon Administration we all remember as Watergate. Felt, Woodward, and Bernstein managed to keep the secret for over 30 years before Felt came out in 2005. Whistleblowers like Felt always deserve a measure of honor.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

two republicans

Marc Fisher praises retiring Virginia Senator John Warner. This is one sentiment I can generally agree with. Warner is styled a moderate; he was actually conservative when he joined the Senate 30 years ago, but his Republican colleagues moved steadily right so he ends up a moderate.

I respect Warner for not always going blindly along with GOP leadership, for acknowledging that occasionally a Democrat can be right, and that Democrats might even be patriotic Americans. And I appreciated his outspoken opposition to Ollie North's senatorial campaign back in 1994.

I'm glad that he is being replaced by Democrat Mark Warner, but John Warner was a decent guy.

On the other hand, I'm not so sure about Obama's appointment of Ray LaHood as Transportation Secretary. Hey, with Gates there's already one Republican in the cabinet, that's enough.

The first cabinet meeting with LaHood and Hillary Clinton both present might be interesting...


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

approaching that economic black hole where things don't work the same

The Fed has essentially gone to a zero interest rate regime. And the Consumer Price Index dropped 3% in November.

Sayeth Paul Krugman, America has turned Japanese... Seriously, we are in very deep trouble. Getting out of this will require a lot of creativity, and maybe some luck too.

None of this looks very good. The Wall Street rally on the Fed news? Just further proof of the irrational element that underlies much trading.


another towering literary achievement coming up i'm sure

So Lynne Cheney has decided to write a biography of James Madison, our fourth President and the only one of the Founding Fathers who hasn't had a recent popular biography written about him.

No word yet on whether Cheney's treatment of Madison will include a steamy lesbian love scene like her previous literary magnum opus, Sisters.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

republicans' attempt to kill off detroit

I've said the Senate GOP are playing anti-union politics in consistently opposing the Detroit auto assistance deal. Eugene Robinson has it right:

... Senate Republicans... killed the bailout measure by demanding that the United Auto Workers agree to sharp, almost immediate cuts in wages and benefits.

Funny, I don't recall a cry from Senate Republicans for salary caps on the stockbrokers whose jobs were saved in the Wall Street bailout. Nor, to my knowledge, have they demanded that white-collar workers in the auto companies take pay cuts. I do recall lectures from some Republicans in the Senate about how inadvisable it is for government to meddle in the workings of the free market. In my book, renegotiating labor contracts qualifies as meddling.

Silly Robinson! Everybody knows only the Democrats meddle. Republicans' motives are always ideologically pure, and they are simply incapable of interfering in the market, so it must not be so! Just like they agree that the government should keep out of our private lives, unless your wife is in an irreversible coma and you want to remover her from the machine, in which case it again becomes the duty of the Republicans to meddle I mean, make sure the right thing is done.


irony in mexico

The lede to this unfortunate story is a perfect example of irony:

An American anti-kidnapping negotiator, whose company says he has resolved almost 100 kidnapping cases in Latin America, was abducted by gunmen last week -- while meeting with Mexican business executives and their bodyguards to discuss ways to thwart such crimes.

Joking aside, kidnapping has become rife in Mexico. It's a serious problem. Good luck to Felix Batista.


those shoes

I wasn't going to write anything about irate journalist Muntadar al-Zaidi's one-two, here-comes-my-shoe attempted assault on de facto President George W. Bush. But I can't resist noting that Bush's quick duck was by far the best move on Iraq we have seen from him.


Monday, December 15, 2008

pre-emptive accusations of shinseki being a liar

So former special weenie to Don Rumsfeld Larry Di Rita has taken pre-emptive attack to a new level. In an op-ed piece in the Washington Post, he says that General Eric Shinseki, Obama's nominee for Secretary of Veterans' Affairs, did not oppose the Iraq war plan. Di Rita goes further to smear Shinseki's assertion that "several hundred thousand" troops would be needed post-war in Iraq by saying Shinseki knew there were 400,000 troops in the pipeline to use during conflict. That last point is confusing - nowhere does Di Rita undermine Shinseki's point that POST-CONFLICT several hundred thousand troops would be neede.

But confusion is OK, because Di Rita, who now writes for the National Review On-Line, is just slinging shit here anyway to obscure the record and pre-emptively accuse Shinseki of being a liar before he even has a Senate hearing.

Di Rita also writes that Shinseki was not "forced from office," saying he retired as scheduled. Technically true, but an incomplete account. What Rumsfeld and company DID do was select Shinseki's replacement as Army Chief of Staff FOURTEEN MONTHS before Shinseki was due to retire. That undercut Shinseki badly, as was clearly intended. It was a further example of the sort of treatment any general who did not clearly and openly support Rumsfeld could expect.

Di Rita, who's boss Rumsfeld committed several egregious wrongs including his treatment of Shinseki, says Shinseki now has the "chance to right an egregious wrong" by admitting he had the chance to voice his views (which is probably true) and supported the Iraq war plan. The war plan? Maybe. The POST-WAR plan? Totally different question, as Di Rita would know. But wait, Rumsfeld expressly prohibited drafting a POST-CONFLICT plan.

And finally Di Rita instructs Shinseki to confirm "that he has no desire to play the role he has been assigned: hero in a legend that has little basis in fact."

Wow. That's nasty - a vicious little smear job. Good to remind us that these guys don't change their stripes when they leave office.

Larry, stay classy.

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

more on rod

Joe Queenan notes that the quest for favors in return for selecting somebody to the Senate wasn't Rod Blagojevich's worst crime - shaking down companies and banks is worse.

And Frank Rich reminds that Governor Rod is far from the biggest fish Patrick Fitzgerald has bagged. But unlike Scooter Libby, Blagojevich is unlikely to get anybody to commute his sentence, should it come to that...


Saturday, December 13, 2008

more on detroit

If the de facto Bush Administration finds a way to make a bridge loan to GM and Chrysler, that would be good. I haven't actually had much occasion to say that; let's see if it happens.

UAW President Ronald Gettelfinger points out another disadvantage for the Big Three - competing with foreign plants being built in southern states with big state subsidies.

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Friday, December 12, 2008

obama and blagojevich, not exactly bosom buddies

An interesting article about the relationship - rivalry - between Barack Obama and Rod Blagojevich in Illinois politics. Really, Blagojevich's grasp on reality seems pretty feeble - even with the whiff of corruption about him and his cool relations with Obama, he expected a speaking role at the Democratic Convention?

Oh and it is absolutely bizarre that he and his Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn, a fellow Democrat, haven't spoken in over a year.

Given his feeble grasp on reality, I would not be at all surprised if Blagojevich tries to stick this out, even as his own party considers impeaching him...

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chu for energy

The more I hear about Steven Chu, Obama's nominee for Secretary of Energy, the more I like.

Chu compares climate change to an electrical wiring problem:

Suppose, he said, you had a small electrical fire at home and a structural engineer told you there was a 50 percent chance your house would burn down in the next few years unless you spent $20,000 to fix faulty wiring.

"You can either continue to shop for additional evaluations until you find the one engineer in 1,000 who is willing to give you the answer you want -- 'your family is not in danger' -- or you can change the wiring," Chu said in a presentation in September.

Clearly no climate change skeptic. Chu is also strong on saying that technology and innovation can help, but believes "governments need to "act quickly" to implement fiscal and regulatory policies to stimulate the deployment of technologies that boost energy efficiency and "minimize" carbon emissions."

Wow, I can barely believe we may actually have sane people in the White House and Cabinet soon.


republicans bail out on bail out

So Senate Republicans are willing to kill the Detroit loan because they couldn't get certainty that unions at GM, Ford, and Chrysler wouldn't get sufficiently big pay cuts. This despite the fact that the UAW has said it is willing to cut costs.

Maybe this is a mistake on the UAW/Democratic side. But it's a bit sadistic of the Republicans to be trying to force a certain time for a pay cut for the union employees. Look if the Big Three survive, it's clear there will be some sort of changes. Why do the Republicans want to fine-tune the details?

Especially a bad look when they just want to make sure that one way or another, union employees are screwed over, when they have so firmly fought against any sort of Congressional interference in executive compensation. The difference? Executives give money to the Republicans.

So, on an alleged matter of principle, the Republicans are willing to risk however many jobs at General Motors and Chrysler, even as first-time applications for unemployment benefits hit a 26-year high.

Are there really any working people out there who still believe the Republicans are on their side?

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

he won't go easy

Do you get the sense that Rod Blagojevich won't quit as easily as Eliot Spitzer?


An interesting choice nominated to head the Energy Department, a Nobel Prize winning physicist. Steven Chu has a lot of experience - he is the head of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Nice to see somebody who isn't just an energy industry type.

Assuming his managerial skills are decent, sounds like a good choice to head up a crash energy development program.

just asking

Senate Republicans appear poised to defeat a bill to give a loan to the Big Three American auto makers.

Am I being more cynical than usual, or does the fact that leading opponents, Republican Senators Richard Shelby and Bob Corker, come from states (Alabama and Mississippi) with significant foreign auto manufacturing presences?


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

blagojevich - venal, and not unique

I'm feeling contrary. Let's have a slightly different look at the sins of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. He hasn't killed anybody, after all, or sold weapons to Iran, or tortured somebody. He hasn't sent anybody off to war on trumped up intelligence. He hasn't driven drunk or boffed a high-priced prostitute, or gone into a bathroom stall with a wide stance.

Yes, he is venal and definitely out for the main chance, seeking to enrich himself by using his power to give people something they want - in this one particular case, by appointing somebody to succeed Barack Obama in the Senate.

Yes, it appears Blagovjevich wanted something in return, and wasn't satisfied with "appreciation" alone. Governor Rod was talking about getting a good job for him and/or for his wife. He was talking about using the Senate seat as a springboard to his own laughably far-reaching ambition of maybe running for President in 2016.

He said he wanted to make money.

Wow. He sounds like a politician. How many members of Congress have gotten cushy jobs for THEIR wives and children and brothers and sisters? How many governors have made appointments to positions knowing they would get some sort of benefit, whether in the form of a campaign contributions, political support, or promises of future considerations? How many politicians have had foundations or PACs generously funded by well-wishers, some of which may have had business with the state or Congress?

Scandal-ridden Ohio Republican Congressman Bob Ney was even convinced finally to quit Congress rather than to run for re-election when his fellow Republicans convinced him that to stay in and lose a race would hurt his chances of lining up a big fat cushy well-paid influence peddling job on K Street.

Hell, George W. Bush was raising cash for his lavish de facto presidential library ages ago, while still de facto President. Sorry, not all of those donations were merely gestures of appreciation for his peerless leadership. There may have been self-interest at play. If he were still alove, Ken Lay would give him a ton of money I'm sure. Shocking!

I'm not defending Blagojevich (nor am I crying for him - he's a jerk and probably not the brightest bulb in the marquee). Selling appointments to state boards, explicitly awarding contracts in return for campaing contributions, etc - that's all generally illegal. Selling a US Senate seat for cash (if that's precisely what he meant...) is wrong, too. But really, his biggest misfortune is to be in the jurisdiction of US Attorney General Patrick Fitzgerald. I'm not accusing Fitzgerald of doing this out of political spite - he jailed the Republican governor of Illinois too. Just that Fitzgerald seems more willing to see what some politicians consider normal wheeling and dealing (or maybe "normal but stretching the envelope a little") as indictable crimes than do other US attorneys.

If you cloned Fitzgerald and spread him around the country, half of Congress would be in jail.

In any case, whoever the next governor is that gets to fill a Senate seat had better be careful.

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

legitimacy, revisited

Yesterday I commented on Karl Rove's complaint that not everybody thought de facto President George W. Bush had legitimacy as president, and noted that many Republicans refused to consider Bill Clinton as legitimate either. Not because there was any question about his electoral victories in 1992 or 1996, but because he was not a god-fearing conservative St-Ronald-of-Reagan's-ass-kissing right wing Republican.

Well, assaults on Barack Obama's legitimacy are already underway. So far they appear to be confined to the nuttier elements of the conservative world. Some lawyer from Pennsylvania called Philip Berg (supported by Bob Shulz of the We the People Foundation, a nutty anti-tax organization) says Obama isn't a natural born American citizen, complains that he is actually a British subject (because Obama, he says, was born in Kenya when that was still a British possession) AND an Indonesian citizen because of his adoption by his stepfather, his mother's second husband.

Well the Supreme Court decided not to grant a stay to the Electoral College vote, which Berg wanted. Berg also complained that John McCain, born to American parents in the Panama Canal Zone, was also not a natural born citizen and was therefore also ineligible to be President. How non-partisan. And utterly stupid. (For what it's worth, there isn't anything in the Constitution precluding a dual-national from being President. But Obama is a mono-national, only an American citizen of the natural-born variety. McCain, too. Although personally I think we SHOULD allow naturalized citizens to run for the Presidency. This isn't 1788, we don't have to worry about England or France trying to impose a monarch upon us.)

Just a nut? Or as Dana Milbank writes, is this the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy back in business?


Monday, December 08, 2008


Karl Rove is going to name names in a new book about people who didn't give de facto President George W. Bush his just props as POTUS. Says the one known as Turdblossom,“There were people who never accepted the legitimacy of George W. Bush and acted accordingly.”

Well, that could be because of the way he was selected by the US Supreme Court, after they jumped into what was a STATE issue (states run their own elections, and Florida was on the way to resolving this - which could well have ended with them awarding the electoral votes and the election to Bush).

But particularly after September 11 the country rallied around GWB. He lost respect, indeed he lost legitimacy, when he turned the war on terrorism into a play for partisan advantage in the 2002 and 2004 elections, and unprecedented move by an American President. His respect and legitimacy were further undermined by his bait and switch on Social Security, and his Administration's utter failure to respond or to even look like they gave a shit to New Orleans' agony post-Katrina.

In fact, Democrats were supportive of Bush in a way Republicans NEVER were convinced of the legitimacy of legitimately elected Democratic President Bill Clinton in the 1990s. For them, the mere fact that Clinton wasn't a conservative was enough to justify not-so-civil disobedience and a series of witch hunts into money-losing land investments and admittedly sordid but ultimately private affairs.

We'll see how the Republicans accept the legitimacy of Barack Obama. At least at the moment they don't control Congress so will be limited in their ability to start the investigations, if they are so inclined.


Sunday, December 07, 2008

what to do in these uncertain economic times

Buy! Stocks and houses will give you a decent return by 2016 or so, if you are otherwise careful with your money and avoid credit card debt.

No, wait! They may be nowhere close to recovering!

No, wait - SELL! And take a loss and write it off on your taxes!


In any case, de facto President Barack Obama isn't waiting until the abdication of George W. Bush is official to get started - he's unveiled plans to spend a lot of money on infrastructure and other projects, with the hoped effect of boosting the economy and jobs growth. And maybe fixing a bridge or two that might otherwise be tempted to fall into the Mississippi River.

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Saturday, December 06, 2008


The November jobs numbers are appalling. And they are inadequate since the truer rate of unemployment, counting people who've given up on trying to find a job, or are stuck working part-time when they'd like a full-time job, is even worse - 12.5%.

With unemployment - which has NEVER been strong under the de facto Bush Administration - weakening so dramatically, it is no surprise to hear that mortgages are going south at an even faster pace. Nearly 10% of homeowners are behind on their mortgages or are already in foreclosure proceedings.

So this may not be the best time to see automakers falling over; looks like Congress will at least offer a bridge loan to the Big Three to keep General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler alive for a couple of more months...


Friday, December 05, 2008

playing with fire

I think Congressional Republicans are playing with fire when it comes to the question of whether or not to help General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler.

I have been a strong critic of Detroit - there is a reason they have lost market share to foreign auto manufacturers, including their over-reliance on SUVs. If this were normal times and one of them was in trouble, I would have little sympathy.

But in case the Republicans haven't noticed, these aren't normal times. It is premature to use the word "depression" but just the fact that it is being kicked around also shows this isn't a "regular" recession that we are in. The word "deflation" is also in the conversation, and that is really not a situation we want to be in.

So to jeopardize a million-plus jobs right now isn't wise. And this isn't just a Big Three problem - if you hadn't noticed, both Toyota and Honda reported 30%-plus drops in sales last month as well.

So as distasteful as it may be, I have become convinced that this is NOT a time to risk the collapse of the Big Three. Yes, they could file for bankruptcy and reorganization, but again these are not normal times, and in any case doing so would STILL put a lot of people out of work, a deflationary anti-stimulus action at precisely the wrong time.

Not to mention the equity issue. Why, normally-eager-to-claim-solidarity-with-the-little-guy Republicans, are you so quick to shoot huge wads of cash at Wall Street to help investment bankers save their jobs, but you won't spend far smaller sums of money to help blue collar workers (as well as lots of white collar people like engineers and accountants and advertising people) to help Detroit survive this crisis?

Meanwhile, look at the level of analysis being shown by Republican Senator Richard Shelby. Shelby spent much of his time yesterday asking the Big Three CEOs whether they drove or flew from Detroit to Washington, and then whether they had a driver or carpooled or what. This from a Senator who gets to fly on the public nickel all the time.

Those simply aren't serious questions. Yes, hammer the CEOs about plans to reorganize, for how they will use any bailout funds, get details. And definitely, the US government should get something in return for any bailout. But please don't piss around with stupid questions like this.

If Detroit collapses in the near term with no help from Washington and a lot of people lose their jobs, if I were the Democrats I would make sure nobody ever forgets it.

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Thursday, December 04, 2008

pinko america haters meet obama, urge unilateral disarmament

A bunch of aging old busy-body socialist bleeding-heart pinkos met with Barack Obama and demanded that American throw away a valuable tool in the war against terrorism and anti-Americanism. They told Obama that America had to stop using interrogation techniques that renowned experts like Dick Cheney think are no-brainers to use.

Who were these wusses who are so afraid of going to the dark side to protect all Americans from radical Islamofascist terrorists, even if it means beating them until their legs are turned to pulp and they die from their injuries?

A bunch of retired US military officers. Generals and admirals.

People like retired Navy rear admiral and ex-JAG John Hutson, who said "Fundamentally, those kinds of techniques are ineffective. If the goal is to gain actionable intelligence, and it is, and if that's important, and it is, then we have to use the techniques that are most effective. Torture is the technique of choice of the lazy, stupid and pseudo-tough."

The technique of the lazy, stupid and pseudo-tough. Well put, Admiral Hutson.

Let's review this again, boys and girls. Torture is ineffective. It gets all sorts of false positives from people who will say anything to make it stop. Even the ISRAELIS don't torture because they realized it just doesn't work.

And even more to the point, torture is un-American. It demeans you and me to have people torturing in our name. It even demeans the torturer. And it puts us in greater danger by angering people in countries around the world, some of whom decide to take up arms and join terrorist organizations against a country that tortures their fellow countrymen.

Outlawing torture should be one of the first things Obama does upon assuming office.


Wednesday, December 03, 2008

take five, doc

A panel of experts at the Institute of Medicine yesterday released recommendations that "(m)edical and surgical residents in hospitals should work no more than 16 hours without taking a mandatory five-hour sleep break, and they should get one full day off a week and at least two back-to-back days off a month".

It is bat-shit insane to have residents working 20-plus hour shifts and putting in over 100 hours a week. Yes, experience is important - but is sleep deprivation really a necessary part of that experience?

Personally, I'd rather somebody trying to help me at least not be a walking zombie due to lack of sleep. Give the doctors-to-be a break.



Auto sales figures for November were incredible. Incredibly BAD. Overall sales down 37% (thirty-seven, not three-point-seven). Literally, they couldn't give them away.

The Detroit Not So Big Three were hit hard - Ford sales down 30%, General Motors down 41%, and Chrysler a jaw-dropping 47%. It wasn't just them - Toyota and Honda sales both dropped over 30% (more than Ford, even).

In this November Americans bought fewer new cars than in any month since October - October of 1982, that is.

So yeah, I think it's safe to say we're in a pretty serious recession here.


coal, it gets you coming and going

Coal is so neat! When you burn it, it puts all that gas into the air that will eventually return us to the Jurassic climate! Nifty!

And it isn't just really really something when you BURN it, it ALSO makes a mess when you MINE it! Hey, ho!

And now, the lame duck de facto Bush Administration, seeing coal for the magnificent resource it is to all of us except the few of us who give a shit about clean water and maintaining a climate that has sustained civilization for lo these few thousand years, is going to make it even easier for coal miners to dump entire mountain tops into valley streams.


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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

stating the obvious

The National Bureau of Economic Research has made it official: we entered a recession in the US in December of 2007. In other news, the NBER released data revealing that Americans prefer chocolate ice cream to broccoli, and confirmed that more Americans listen to hip-hop music than to Laplander reindeer pipe bands.

It can't be a big surprise that we're in a recession; the fact that it started in December rather than say March is pretty much just an accident of history. So why was the stock market so spooked by this determination? This can't have been news to them?

Further proof as Keynes said of the importance of "animal spirits." And that economics ain't a science.


Monday, December 01, 2008

good news and bad news on the economy

The good news - sales on Black Friday were up 3% from 2007, according to a market research firm.

That's nice. But the bad news - it was based on deep discounting so despite the rise in sales, profits might actually be lower than last year. It took great bargains to get people into the stores, and shopping traffic dropped over the weekend.

This is an economy that needs a boost, bad. It can't happen by cutting interest rates, since they are near zero already. So, spend baby spend. So says Paul Krugman.