Sunday, March 29, 2009

and for what?

Hey, you know how the de facto Bush Administration had Abu Zubaida tortured in our name? The Bush crowd said it got us valuable information and stopped terror attacks.

Except it turns out it did NOT. The best info they got from Abu Zubaida was from before the waterboarding and other torture began. And professionals in the government say it stopped NOTHING.

So they tortured and besmirched our name. For nothing.

And speaking of torture, the following six ex-Bush officials may want to cancel their vacation to Spain: Alberto Gonzales, Doug Feith, David Addington, John Yoo, Jay Bybee; and William Haynes II. A Spanish court is considering bringing charges against them for their role in providing legal cover for the torture at Guantanamo...


Friday, March 27, 2009

first you gotta know where it's all coming from

Glad to see the new Administrator of the EPA, Lisa Jackson, is moving to establish a greenhouse gas registry - a census of how much carbon, methane, etc that are being belched into the atmosphere.

You gotta know where it's coming from and in what quantities to try to do something about it. Funny, ex-de facto President George W. Bush never got around to doing this, even though it was a plan passed by Congress. Sort of a pocket veto.


Thursday, March 26, 2009

financial regulation might be a good idea

I look forward to seeing what is in the Geithner's proposed ideas for regulating financial firms. From the Post, we see that it would "define which financial firms are sufficiently large and important to be subjected to this increased regulation. Those firms would be required to hold relatively more capital in their reserves against losses than smaller firms, to demonstrate that they have access to adequate funding to support their operations, and to maintain constantly updated assessments of their exposure to financial risk."

Gosh, doesn't that seem like the kind of thing a responsible firm would do ANYWAY? The fact that somebody has to regulate simple prudence is an argument in favor of regulation.

As for regulating derivatives and being given the power to shut down non-bank financial firms, well I think the fine example of AIG, the bail-out that keeps on bailing, is probably a good indicator of why such abilities are probably a Good Idea.

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john hope franklin

Prominent American race/civil rights historian John Franklin Hope has died, at the age of 94. His book "The Militant South, 1800-1861" is one of the best things I have ever read. RIP.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

"it's a secret" is not a permissable defense

It doesn't matter whether it was the de facto Bush Administration, or the Obama Administration, but dismissing lawsuits based on the premise that to defend against the lawsuit would require uncovering state secrets is NOT legitimate in a democracy.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

sometimes it's okay to praise republicans

Republicans in the Senate are not keen to move the "Tax the Bonus" bill the House passed last week.

Their motives may be questionable. But delay is the best thing for that turkey of a bill. Delay, followed by its quiet death.

I take a back seat to nobody in decrying the increasing disparity between executive pay and what the rest of us get, about the widening gulf between the haves and the have-nots in America. But as I said before, such a bill endangers the trillion-dollar efforts the Federal government is undertaking to revive the financial sector.

And it's a bit crass to focus such a tax on such a narrow class of earners. Not a great precedent. Don't give the GOP any ideas. Maybe they would like to propose a 90% tax on income above $50,000 for any doctor that performs abortions...


treasury's new plan

Tim Geithner has a new plan to use $100 billion to help take some bad assets off of the banks' hands so they can start lending again.

It's all complicated. I admit to worrying that the fact that would-be buyers don't think those toxic assets are worth near as much as the would-be sellers think is a fundamental problem. As the Washington Post editors said, "If all goes according to plan, the market know-how of the private firms will lead to maximally efficient deployment of government resources, and taxpayer losses will be relatively modest."

Umm, isn't the so-called LACK of market know-how, aka judgment, the reason we are in this mess in the first place? Not confidence-inspiring.

And I know Paul Krugman, who knows a thing or two, is despairing of the whole thing - which is in essence a nice big fat subsidy, with the taxpayer sharing in the potential upside, but owning 100% of the downside.

But what worries me most about it is that Wall Street LIKES it, and the Dow Jones went way up. We need to get out of the mindset that what is good for Wall Street is necessarily good for America, and away from the misconception that a day or even a week or a month of a rising stockmarket means ANYTHING.

I still think we should wrap up some of these banks like the FDIC does routinely. We don't want to let zombies roam the financial landscape, as was the case for Japan through-out their stagnant 1990s.


Saturday, March 21, 2009

leave those animals alone

Florida and Alaska are both considering laws banning bestiality, following incidents of men having sex with various animals.

I tend to be a "keep the government out of the bedroom" kind of guy, but I am completely behind Florida and Alaska on this one. And the argument isn't based on what I think is gross or fun or whatever. It's the same argument that should be applied to other acts involving sex that we deem crimes.

The lack of consent.

Animals can't give informed consent to have sex. So banning sex with them is like having laws for statutory rape, or against having sex with somebody in a coma, or somebody who is for whatever reason incapable of giving informed consent.

If they can't say or nod "yes", assume you should go somewhere else for your thrills. And dogs, sheeps, goats etc can't say yes.

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Friday, March 20, 2009

self-regulation can kill

It's shocking, simply shocking, that when for-profit organizations are responsible for assessing the safety and soundness of how a business operates, cozy relationships between the auditors and auditees sometimes spring up, and things that should not be acceptable are covered up, swept aside. In fact, sometimes these organizations are actually PAID by the company, let's call them Company A, they purport to be overseeing.

Sometimes, you end up with another business, let's call them Company B, that decides to inspect the operations of Company A themselves - and find that it is NOT being run in a safe, sound way. But Company B of course has no obligation to blow the whistle on Company A, and so the malfeasance continues unabated until something goes wrong, and people are hurt badly.

In THIS particular instance, I'm talking peanuts. Company A, the Peanut Corporation of America of salmonella fame, and Company B, Nestle, which decided NOT to buy PCA's peanuts after seeing the shit on the floor.

But it sure sounds like Wall Street, doesn't it? Substitute rating agencies like Standard & Poors instead of inspectors like American Institute of Baking International (which gave PCA's operations passing grades). When Standard & Poors and their fellow rating agencies gave AA ratings to securities including all sorts of dubious mortgages, they were essentially telling us all that those securities were safe to consume. In the case of peanuts, several people have died.

The credit rating agencies contributed to destroying Wall Street and the economy by calling those rat-turd infested CDOs "prime investment material."

Even Alan Greenspan now realizes that allowing industries to "self-regulate" (which means "minimally regulate") is NOT effective.

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cutting off the nose spites the face

I don't necessarily believe those AIG employees deserve that $165 million in bonuses. But I do believe it is dumb for Congress to pass a law imposing a punitive tax on bonuses of firms that are getting bail-out money.

Yeah, sure there is the question of the rather odd way the financial sector tends to structure its compensation - bonuses are a normal and expected part of the overall pay, just paid out as "bonuses" to keep base compensation down because there are tax advantages for the companies to do that. I'm fine with fixing that loophole.

But in the short run, this bonus tax is dumb because it might cause the leadership - people who get paid bonuses - of some financial institutions to decide to put their personal interest ahead of that of the shareholders and indeed of the country as a whole and decline federal assistance. That may not cause their bank to fail, but it may well constrain their ability to lend. And that will put a damper on the economy, deflating some of the already inadequate stimulus package and keeping the squeeze on credit a little bit tighter.

I'm sure President Obama will sign it, and a lot of people will cheer for it. But it's dumb. To claw back some of that $165 million, we are undermining the effectiveness of the TRILLION dollars-plus the US government and the Federal Reserve have poured into the system.

And besides, as Steven Pearlstein notes, there are other things we SHOULD be riled up about.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

keep your finger away, doc

Hey, whaddaya know? Those PSA blood tests for prostate cancer "saves few lives and leads to risky and unnecessary treatments for large numbers of men". Large numbers? Apparently, a positive biopsy leads to risky and painful treatment when the fact is, only 1 out of 50 guys with that diagnosis actually ever get prostate cancer.

But gosh, they are just so profitable, let's keep on doing them, right? What else does a specialist have to do?


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

who gave the order to torture?

That's the question. There should be an investigation to see who gave the authority to torture. Because it was a policy decision made somewhere pretty high up in the US government...

As Anne Applebaum writes, The guilty, however senior, should be named, forced to testify and called to account -- because the rule of law, and nothing else, is what makes us exceptional.


Monday, March 16, 2009

torture, says red cross

The International Red Cross keeps its reports on conditions at POW camps confidential; that is so that it can gain access. But its report on Abu Ghraib was obtained and leaked somehow by professor and author Mark Danner. It confirms what has been alleged - systematic ill-treatment of high-value prisoners in a manner consistent with torture, the word used by the Red Cross.

The bad guys in question all were consistent in describing their treatment. But "A U.S. official familiar with the report said, 'It is important to bear in mind that the report lays out claims made by the terrorists themselves.'"

But surely these high-value terrorists were kept isolated, right? If so, to make such consistent claims would tend to confirm the validity of what the Red Cross found. If they were making it up or were exaggerating, they would be unlikely to come up with the same consistent story...


Saturday, March 14, 2009

farmer wants to secede from california

California farmer Virgil Rogers wants to divide California into two. He wants to separate coastal California - you know, the part of the state with 90% of the people - from the interior.

Why? Because “Those Hollywood types don’t have any idea what’s going on out here on the farms.” Seems old Mr. Rogers is upset that city folk "just don’t know what it takes to get food on their table.” And now Proposition 2 has banned the tight confinement of egg-laying hens, veal calves and sows.

There are other things Hollywood types don't know about what's going on out on the farms. They don't know about the fat farm subsidies they get, cash from you and me to them. They don't know about the subsidized water rates they pay - that we are taking water from the Owens Valley and Mexico in order to allow farmers to grow alfalfa in the DESERT.

So if we're gonna do some truth telling, Mr. Rogers, let's make sure we do it in both directions. The fact is, rural-dominated legislatures (like the US Senate) are reactionary, farm-protectionist outfits. Believe it or not, legislatures don't exist solely for the sake of farmers. They represent, they protect the interests of us ALL. That includes the interests of farmers, and the interests of the OTHER 98% of Americans.


kurtz reporting on comedians doing kurtz' job

Jon Stewart jumped all over CNBC star Jim Cramer on The Daily Show the other night, reports Howard Kurtz, for CNBC's failure to reveal the bullshit CEOs were peddling on their show.

Remember, Jon Stewart is a comedian. And Jon Stewart, Kurtz reports, is trashing the news media for failing to do its job. In this case, for taking all of the stuff the Wall Street types were saying at face value.

Do you think when Howard Kurtz writes a story like this, he thinks "gosh, Jon Stewart just did something I could do, since I am a reporter who is supposed to cover the media"?


Thursday, March 12, 2009

misplaced confidence

David Ignatius isn't entirely off base. The current economic crisis IS a crisis, and it is like the phony war at the beginning of World War II - with worse to come, I fear.

But he then criticizes the Obama Administration for not having enough BUSINESS PEOPLE in the CABINET.

Hello, David, have you been paying attention? Who the hell do you think was running Countryside while it churned out more and more mortgages to people who couldn't pay them? Or with insidious terms like "interest only" for five years? It was business people.

Who do you think was working at places like AIG and Lehman Brothers taking those dubious mortgages, dicing them into tiny pieces, blending them with less dubious mortgages and a few mortgages that looked rock solid, and offering them for sale as if the solid portion would make the whole financial instrument less risky? It was business people.

Who do you think was working at the rating agencies like Standard & Poors that then looked at those steaming turd-piles called collateralized debt obligations and other derivatives, and decided they were prime-grade AAA rated instruments? It was business people.

Who do you think is running General Motors and Chrysler and Ford, and decided to put all their eggs in the SUV basket, failing to compete on innovation or economy and therefore shocked, shocked when the market changed? It was business people.

Hell, for that matter, do you remember how after George W. Bush was selected as the de facto President by the Supreme Court, that many assumed he would have a very competent people because it would be staffed by a bunch of MBAs? In other words, even in the case of the failed Bush Administration, it was business people.

Jeez Ignatius, it is okay now to come off of the hero-worshiping attitudes of business people that has dominated the mainstream media in the 1990s and 2000s up until about oh March of 2008 (and can still be found at CNBC and other places, who are too set in their ways to learn).

Yes, many of them are smart and careful and wise and love their mothers. But others of them are shallow or stupid, in their place due to luck and/or connections from college or family (hello George W. Bush).

And further, most business people have no more idea than Ignatius or me or my pet beagle about how to run a government agency, or how to fix the economy.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

opposition research

Hey, a biologist at Liberty "University" brings his Advanced Creation Studies "biology" class students to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

They look at the dinosaurs and discuss how they were created on the sixth day and all lived on the earth with mammoths and humans. They talk about how the earth is 6000 years old. They look at all of the stuff the Smithsonian, that proud bastion of evolution, puts out their to support the Darwinian case.

Class instructor David DeWitt says, "As an educator, I want them to see the most up-to-date material." And says "We come every year, because I don't hold anything back from the students."

"I don't hold anything back from the students?" Somehow I doubt it. There is no way to make a creationist case without holding something back.

Now I can understand his students being ignorant and/or faithful enough, depending on whether you feel like being factual or charitable, to believe in creationism, especially the literal young-earth creationism that DeWitt and his colleagues espouse.

I don't understand how somebody can get a biology degree from a reputable university like Michigan State and a PhD in neuroscience from a reputable university like Case Western Reserve and still believe in the young earth myth (to call it a "hypothesis" or "theory" would be to grossly overstate its credibility.

The human capacity for self-delusion truly is impressive. And whenever I read or hear young earth or any OTHER type of literal creationists explain their cases, all I can think is truly, their logic is dizzying.

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Monday, March 09, 2009

another reminder that george w. bush isn't president

President Obama is going to lift restrictions on stem cell research. And the White House is going to issue guidelines that should shield science from politics.

Good signs. Sometimes science says things I don't like. For example, I really don't like what most reputable scientists believe is likely to happen as we spew more greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere; global warming, climate change - I don't like them.

But that doesn't mean you ignore them.

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Sunday, March 08, 2009

the best reporting yet on the pathetic state of financial and business reporting

It doesn't pay to "bail out" of an appearance on the Daily Show. Watch this clip, and enjoy it. The first two-plus minutes are Jon Stewart skewering Rick Santelli over his little rant on the floor of the NYSE recently - and for backing out of an appearance.

The rest of the clip is a funny but sobering compilation of things CNBC has gotten wrong over the past couple of years about things like whether AIG would require federal assistance (CNBC said no), about their hardball interview with scam artist "Sir" Allen Stanford (question: is it fun to be a billionaire), about whether Bear Sterns was in trouble (they said no; it collapsed six days later), about whether Lehman Brothers risked the same fate as Bear (CNBC said no; it collapsed three months later), about whether Merril Lynch needed to raise more capital (CNBC said no, they were wrong, and Merril Lynch is no more).

You can hear the audience as the Daily Show intersperses Jim Cramer's boosterish "buy buy buy" advice and softball interviews by lame CNBC personalities with plain graphics pointing out how utterly wrong they were. The audience kinda laughs, but it's a pained groan of a laugh. They get it, that our allegedly top business and financial network was completely in the pockets of the people they purported to be covering. Who were, of course, often the people buying advertising on CNBC and thereby paying the salaries of Maria Bartiromi, Jim Cramer, Larry Kudlow and the rest.

So is it any surprise they failed so completely? Nope. They couldn't afford to succeed. It's as if the sports pages of the New York Times had to rely exclusively on advertising revenues from the Dallas Cowboys, New York Yankees, and Roger Clemens.

So watch, and groan. Once again, the Daily Show is providing the best reporting on top stories for the day. And it's supposed to be the one doing fake news. The others just fake doing the news.

(That embed thing may not be right. Try this link.)

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The Obama Administration is talking up high-speed rail, both to reduce congestion at airports and as the sort of project to spend stimulus funds on.

I've ridden high speed rails in Japan and Europe, and I like them. But the scale is different there - cities are closer together. In the US, I fear the critical mass for such rail will be limited to a few key city pairs, as is the case now where the only significant rail-riding going on is in the DC-New York-Boston corridor.

Will Californians ride trains between San Francisco and Los Angeles? I dunno...

Friday, March 06, 2009

bunning for senate 2010

Here's a potential Democratic pickup in 2010 - the Kentucky senate seat held by Jim Bunning. And the GOP knows it, so they're trying to get the cranky old pitcher to retire gracefully.

Doesn't seem to be Bunning's style.

But isn't ex-Bushie Phil Musser a bit unfair when he says of Bunning, “He is perceived as being out-of-touch, hot-headed and generally counterproductive”?

I mean, how many Republicans does that describe?


everybody's in favor of health care reform...

At least so it would appear from the health care summit President Obama held at the White House. Insurers, politicians, big business - all making positive noises that reform is needed, the current system fails many American patients and businesses, etc.

But I thought Utah Senator Robert Bennett (a Republican) sounded an appropriate warning. He agreed with "absolutely everything" Bill Clinton said in his 1993 address to Congress... but then disagreed with almost the entire plan.

From the Post: "Bipartisanship is not just a nice thing we say to each other before we touch gloves, go to our corners and come out swinging when the bell rings," Bennett said. Health reform will require "wrenching change," he added. If it is to succeed, political leaders in both parties will have to "join hands and jump off the cliff together."

I happen to think this can probably be done without 100% Republican support. But some would be good...

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Thursday, March 05, 2009

two more reminders that george w. bush is no longer president

I occasionally have to remind myself that the de facto Bush Administration is over. Two items help bring that fact home.

First, President Obama has nominated Craig Fugate to be the head of FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency of "heck of a job Brownie" Katrina screw-up fame. And Fugate is actually qualified. He has headed Florida's Division of Emergency Management since 2001, and has done a good job in running the agency and responding to hurricanes. Fugate was first appointed by Jeb Bush, the competent Bush brother. And he is a choice that I can't imagine George W. having made. Hope he's up to date on his taxes.

And second, Karl Rove and Harriet Miers will testify about the Great US Attorney Massacre and their roles. Admittedly, it will be before the House Judiciary Committe, with no cameras or media present. But they WILL be subject to perjury if (?) they lie, and transcripts will be made and eventually published.

Not entirely perfect, but the perjury element is important.

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Wednesday, March 04, 2009

rushing to suck up to rush

It's fun watching Republicans like RNC chairman Michael Steele suck up to Rush Limbaugh, and hastening to grovel if they have the temerity to criticize the fat old oxycontin-popping "entertainer". Even if - ESPECIALLY if - they criticism is true.

So what does Rush bring to the GOP? Well, he has his 20 million ditto-head listeners. But hey, it's not like most of those guys (for guys they are, mostly) will leave the conservative precincts to cast a vote for a Democrat just because some Republican says something bad about old Rush.

Instead, they get to see Rush's face back in the headlines, helping remind independent voters that THIS is the Republican Party's de facto leader. Helping remind them of Limbaugh's appeals to latent racism, scare tactics, and the old stand-by, outright lies in the cause of reactionary radical Republicanism.

Helping remind them why they voted Democratic last time, and why they should do so next time.

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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

the sins of the recent past

The Sins of Torture and Covering Up

Speaking about the fact that the CIA destroyed 92 tapes of interrogations, spokesman George Little said "If anyone thinks it's agency policy to impede the enforcement of American law, they simply don't know the facts."

Well then Mr Little, perhaps you would care to enlighten us. Because it doesn't look good. US government agencies, famous for their pack-rat tendencies, don't usually get rid of - destroy - documents and records like those videos lightly. Especially after court orders instructing their preservation are issued, as was the case here.

Face it, it looks bad. If the Agency has some "facts" that would better explain what to the uninitiated might look like "destruction of evidence of torture" or "covering their ass", maybe they would like to share with the class? Otherwise, I think we can all safely assume (even if we can't prove it in a court of law) that the CIA has intentionally destroyed proof that it was torturing people, in the name of the American people. Which is sickening. And illegal (torture and destruction of evidence).

The Sins of Trampling on Our Rights

Meanwhile, a batch of Bush-era legal memos post-911 have been released. Seems those memos, including some by the infamous John Yoo, were all rescinded because they contained "errors" in legal reasoning. Although some of them weren't rescinded until the last WEEK of the woeful de facto Bush era.

"Errors"? How kind. They weren't "errors." They were clear efforts by lawyers who were more loyal to Bush-Cheney than to the Constitution to provide legal cover for illegal and unconstitutional actions. They weren't errors, they were POLICIES.

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Monday, March 02, 2009

let's be more like canada, eh?

We like to make fun of our Canadian neighbors. But you know, they have some good things going for them.

Like health care. Nick Kristof has a good column picking apart the kneejerk reaction to the idea of national health care that "we'll all have to wait months for an operation like in Canada."

Well, a health care system that gives us, at the price of the highest expenditure on health care per capita in the world ($6800), a lower life expectancy than Cyprus and children that die twice as often as in Portugal and women that die in childbirth three times more often than in Greece maybe isn't the grand bargain you think. Especially when you remember that when you lose your job, you lose your insurance too - a double hit.

Maybe the Canadian system isn't so bad.

And now as we pump cash into AIG and Citibank and count the dead and dying banks, we can look north and see a country full of healthy banks. In fact, Canada has the healthiest banking system in the world. Why? A combination of cautious regulation and cautious moves by the banks themselves.

So personally I'd love to be a little bit more like Canada. Although I will draw the line at hockey.

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