Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Saturday, January 30, 2010 12:29 am

Odds and ends for 1/29

I’ve already called for impeaching Obama. Looks like we can now add Holder to the mix: A draft report from the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility that originally found that Bush officials Jay Bybee (now a federal judge) and John Yoo (now a “law” “professor” at Berkeley) committed professional misconduct (which would constitute grounds for impeaching Bybee), the final version was cleaned up to say they showed “poor judgment” only. Granted, fabricating a legal justification for torture out of whole cloth does show “poor judgment,” but it shows criminal intent as well.

Well, OK, it’s a first step: Pravda, of all places, reports that Francis A. Boyle, a professor at the University of Illinois College of Law in Champlain, Ill., has requested arrest warrants from the International Criminal Court in The Hague for the arrests of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Tenet, Rice and Gonzalez for “crimes against humanity” under the Rome Statute, which established the court. For all I know this is an Eastern Hemisphere version of an Onion article, but, hey, a citizen can dream.

Well, this bites: More than 30% of Triad mortgages will be under water by 1Q2011, Deutsche Bank estimates.

Historians finally weigh in Jonah Goldberg’s “Liberal Fascism.” Only two years after the fat, lying putz laughed his way to the bank. Thanks a ton, guys.

Banksters organize protest of their treatment … indoors, because it was too cold to go outside. Power to the people!

Bloomberg’s David Reilly asks a good question about this week’s bankster-related developments: Where’s the anger? (Besides Chez Blog on the Run, of course.)

Major-league media?: The Los Angeles Times’ Andrew Malcolm keeps using the phrase “discretionary spending.” I do not think that phrase means what he thinks it means.

Every little bit helps: Somali “pirates” pledge aid to Haiti. (Somali pirates’ est. 2008 income: $150MM+).

Possibly the most entertaining appeals court ruling of the year, and it’s still only January: Gender discrimination in the workplace as manifested by rude language (Oh, so NSFW, by the ruling’s own standards).

What’s stopping the Senate from ramming through a public option in reconciliation? I’m just askin’, on account of 51 breathing senators are on records as supporting one. Seriously, Joe Lieberman can go to hell.

Party of fiscal responsibility, my butt: Every single Republican senator voted Thursday against a new pay-as-you-go rule. Every single Democratic senator voted for it. Remind me again, please, who the grownups are. Quoth commenter Chad N. Freude at Balloon Juice: “They are opposed to pay-as-you-go because they are opposed to go.”

Whoux Dat?; or, There’s a reason they call it the No Fun League: Because you can’t abbreviate No Brains League as NFL. No Frontal Lobe, maybe. (h/t: DivaGeek)

The U.S. economy shrank 2.4% in 2009, the worst calendar-year performance since 1946.

California Senate approves single-payer health-care system; the Governator vetoes it on the laughable grounds that the state “can’t afford it.” Dude, you pay either way, and with single payer, there’s an excellent chance you’d pay less.

Terrorist convicted: The jury deliberated only 37 minutes before finding Scott Roeder guilty of first-degree murder for shooting abortion provider Dr. George Tiller in the head at point-blank range. Roeder admitted the shooting and also testified that he considered only chopping off Tiller’s hands instead of killing him. What a great humanitarian. Memo to New York: If Wichita can try a terrorist, so can you. Memo to the Republicans: Americans are beyond tired of government by incontinence.

I’m probably the last person to find this out, but the free audio-editing program Audacity can record streaming audio from, apparently, any Web site. This makes me insanely happy.

So Obama got together with some Congressional Republicans today. And it’s John Cole of Balloon Juice, who, despite humerus- and-clavicle- and scapula-scraping surgery a couple of days ago, is flying without painkillers, For The Win: “If Mike Pence really is regarded as one of the deep thinkers for the GOP, I’m beginning to understand why they refused to admit Terri Schiavo was brain-dead.” Although the prez himself does nicely with the runner-up: “I would have implemented those ideas had I found a credible economist who agreed with them …”

Thursday, January 28, 2010 9:24 pm

We wuz robbed; or, “These CDOs have ‘cliff risk,’ as in falling off of one.”

On Wednesday, an unredacted list was finally released of what toxic assets the New York Federal Reserve took off AIG’s hands in 2008 for 100 cents on the dollar of our money. Financier Janet Tavakoli has reviewed the list and tells us what we can learn from it.

How badly did this deal screw taxpayers? Horribly:

… at the time of the November 2008 buyout, some CDOs had implied prices of around 60 cents on the dollar. Others had implied prices of around 20 cents on the dollar. Not revealed by the new report is that many of the assets backing some of the CDOs have a high risk of severe or total principal loss (many have actual losses). These CDOs have “cliff risk,” as in falling off of one. (There is currently no reliable secondary market, and similar CDOs have traded as low as one penny.) [To clarify, that's not one penny on the dollar, that's one penny per security -- Ed.]

Among her other findings:

  • Although AIG’s Joe Cassiano has claimed that the company was out of the mortgage-security protection business by the end of 2005, about 14 percent of the CDO tranches, nominally constituting $21 billion of the $62 billion in assets the New York Fed bought from AIG, originated later.
  • Although Blackrock’s managed investments included a AAA-rated June 2007 CDO that had deteriorated to C (junk) status by December 2008, Blackrock got no-bid contracts to manage investments that the New York Fed bought from AIG.
  • The high-dollar bailout of AIG, the insistence that the situation was too critical to allow for negotiations, and the subsequent secrecy all directly and significantly benefited Goldman Sachs.

She adds:

The fact that the Fed and SEC suppressed potentially explosive facts is bad enough, but the delay in making the information public has given interested parties a window of opportunity to cover their tracks by dumping the worst of the assets, thus hiding them forever from public view.

Suppressing the details of AIG’s trades made it easier for AIG’s counterparties to cover-up profiteering and then exploit public funds. If details of these trades had been made public in September 2008, a reasonable negotiator would have demanded that the billions of dollars that had been extracted from AIG (including the $7.5 billion Goldman extracted by then) should be recharacterized as a loan.

Instead, the Fed gifted tens of billions of dollars to banks that supplied the financing for bad loans that damaged the U.S. economy. More than that, these banks engaged in suspect deals that covered up losses and allowed them to continue to report apparent “profits” and pay inflated bonuses. Meanwhile, their securitization activities continued to harm the economy during a period at which the United States was at war.

Goldman is not solely responsible, but it had a large role in AIG’s crisis and a unique position of conflicted interest and influence over the terms of the bailout. Now that the crisis is over, this issue should be reopened, and billions in collateral should be clawed back to pay down public debt, before Goldman Sachs pays more than $16 billion in taxpayer subsidized bonuses to its employees.

And this, folks, was only one bailout.

During his State of the Union address Wednesday night, President Obama reportedly said, “I don’t want to punish the banks.” I think MikeElk speaks for roughly 300 million Americans when he asks why the hell not.

I’ll go a step further: Mr. President, I don’t give a damn what you don’t want. What matters is what we want and what the law says we are owed: Investigations. Indictments. Convictions. Restitution. You want to stimulate the economy? Create the biggest freakin’ law-enforcement task force in this country’s history and turn them loose on the banksters.

Oh, and one other thing we want, Mr. President: fines so big those jackals will never get out from under them. Because tens of millions of Americans will never get out from under what they did. They ought to know, at least, what that feels like.

Odds and ends for 1/28

The ultimate Miller Time: Earlier this month, Harriet Ames turned 100 and then scratched the last item, getting her college diploma, off her bucket list. The next day, that sheepskin in her hand, she died.

To the best of my ability, I will never again say a bad word about the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Conflict of interest?: The New York Times isn’t commenting on a report that the son of its Jerusalem bureau chief is serving in the Israeli military. I understand the problems that publication of this fact, if fact it be, is likely to create for the editor and the paper, as well as the possible security threat for the son and his unit if in fact this is the case. But this isn’t something the Times can ignore or stonewall.

Sen. Judd Gregg: PWNED!!111!!: Gregg, who has been pimping this idea of a bipartisan deficit-reduction commission to shield Congress from the political liability of making tough decisions, shows why he needs the shield when MSNBC’s Melissa Francis, whose work will never keep the Peabody Award people up nights, asks him to name something he’d cut from the budget and he refuses to answer. (To say nothing of the fact that he hems and haws around the question of cutting education spending when that has practically been Job 1 for the GOP since Reagan. Brother, please.)

But you don’t want to reward them, either: Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz says we not only need a lot more stimulus spending, we need it targeted where it will provide a decent rate of return if we’re going to be able to reduce our debt long-term. And where would that be? Technology, infrastructure, education — all the things the Republicans have been trying, by and large, not to fund. Even a ROI of 6% will help pay off long-term debt. But the ROI on spending on banks is 0%. You listening, Mr. President?

Conservative victimization: Obama calls out the Supreme Court for its wrongheaded, wrongly reached ruling in a wrongly accepted case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, and the wingnuts accuse the president of trying to “intimidate” the conservative activist wing of the Court. Questions, for the wingnuts (which is most of ‘em) who spent eighth-grade civics out back smoking dope: How, exactly, do you go about intimidating someone who already has been confirmed to a lifetime appointment? And how easily intimidated do you have to be to hold such a job and still be intimidated by … well, pretty much anything?

The cops lied, and fortunately, 12 of 14 jurors were willing to do something about it. I’ll say it again: I have too much respect for good cops to have any tolerance for bad ones.

George Stephanopoulos asks a good question. NewsBusters has a hissy fit, spouts objectively false claims. (“Liberal media” = “They won’t tell the lies we WANT them to tell.”)

In many important ways, the United States sucks compared to other countries, and it is important to remind ourselves of that. On the other hand, we — alone, I believe, among industrialized countries, and I’d be sad to be wrong about that but not for the reason you probably think — have given corporations more rights and fewer freedoms than people, so we’ve got that going for us.

Bigotry in Malawi: A gay couple in that country are being held “for their own safety” in jail. Where they’re being beaten up.

“I’ve never actually played FarmVille, but any game worth playing has to have Pork Knights”: How to Suck at Facebook.

The Great American Interrogation Disaster, from the man who may know more about interrogation than anyone else alive.

Memo to Andrew Breitbart from the Universe: Payback’s a bitch.

You may be a mansplainer if …: Consider me warned.

Freeloaders: In Moscow, stray dogs use the subway. For free. For real.

Britain’s libel laws are much stricter than America’s. There’s just one problem.

America loves Brett Favre: How much? More than anything that wasn’t a Super Bowl since the “Seinfeld” finale in May 1998.

Huge loss: Journalist Joe Galloway is hanging up his notepad. In recent years, Americans who have worn the uniform and those who wear it still have had no better friend.

Huger loss: J.D. Salinger, RIP.

I have just found the one college course even cooler than my employer’s “Ten Greatest Pop Songs of the Past 50 Years”: ZDI.001: Introduction to Zombie Defense. I forwarded this to several friends, one of whom said she also would post it and added, “I’m also going to read closely for practical purposes.”

And in that vein, I love people who think like this: Seated with Michelle Obama during the State of the Union was 18-year-old high-school senior Li Boynton, who’s researching ways to test water for purity. After reading Life of Pi, a novel about a guy stranded in the middle of the ocean, Boynton designed a solar-distillation device in case the same thing ever happened to her. She was in fifth grade.

And, finally, this is genius: Dante’s Internet:

Wednesday, January 27, 2010 11:06 pm

Odds and ends for 1/27

And people think I’m crazy for suggesting that Obama is as bad as Bush: Marcy flags something that the Washington Post’s Dana Priest wrote down but apparently failed to grasp the significance of: “Somewhere there’s a list of Americans who, the President has determined, can be killed [by their own government] with no due process.” OK, I’ll say it: Impeach him. I’m dead serious. Because if what Priest reports is true, the president has illegally and extraconstitutionally conspired to commit murder.

Think George W. Bush will watch on teevee?: Britain’s former prime minister Tony Blair testifies Friday in the inquiry into that country’s decision to join the war in Iraq. Even if he escapes indictment — and that is far from certain — Blair’s place in British history appears sure to fall into the Brit equivalent of Warren Harding country.

Cue ominous music: The SEC voted 4-1 today to suspend automatic redemptions from money-market funds. People who value these investments for their liquidity now have no reason to value them. Let the stampede begin. What’s the larger meaning? I have no idea, but I’m about 98% sure it ain’t good.

The banksters screw us again: Citi temporarily tamped down some of the criticism of its big bonuses by announcing that every part of anyone’s bonus over $100,000 would be paid in stock, not cash. The idea is, you tie employees in to the company’s goal of long-term growth and profitability. Which would be great if the stock weren’t redeemable for a couple or three years. But this stock? Will be redeemable in April. As stock bonuses go, that’s practically cash.

How the banksters screwed us the first time: The so-called “Schedule A,” the list of crap mortgage-backed securities that the New York Fed took off AIG’s hands at 100 cents on the dollar when they were actually worth around half that, has finally been made public. Not sure exactly what it will mean, but inasmuch as the NYFRB tried to keep this list secret until 2018, you can be reasonably sure it’s nothing good.

Smoking gun: Goldman Sachs could and should have had to eat some of its bad investments in 2008, but the New York Fed let it off the hook, documents show. That’s the same New York Fed then run by our current SecTreas, who REALLY needs to be returned to the private sector posthaste. Oh, wait: He has been a “public servant” his whole life. Well, that’s OK. After what he appears to have done for Goldman, they should pay him a princely sum for life and not even require him to show up for work. Then they’d have a slight taste of how we taxpayers feel, except for the part where they NEVER ACTUALLY DID ANYTHING FOR US, not that I am bitter.

Cops bumping into each other: Joining the House Oversight Committee in looking into the New York Fed’s bailout of Goldman Sachs and AIG is Neil Barofsky, Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, better known as the bank bailout program, who testified today before Congress.

Oh, and lookee what Mr. Barofsky had to say: “According to these [Federal Reserve Bank of New York] executives, then-President [Tim] Geithner ‘acquiesced’ to the executive’s proposal. When asked by [Barofsky's office]  if the executives felt they had received their ‘marching orders’ from then-FRBNY President Geithner to pay the counterparties par [instead of the roughly 48 cents on the dollar they actually were worth], one FRBNY official responded ‘yes, absolutely.’” But … but … Geithner and the White House both say Geithner wasn’t involved in the decision to screw taxpayers by paying AIG customers (including Goldman Sachs) more than they should have. So somebody’s lying. And Barofsky’s the one under oath.

And the hits just keep on coming: A report from Rep. Darrell Issa, ranking Republican on the House Oversight Committee, nails Tim Geithner’s butt to the wall.

Memo to commenters on this article: Genocide is not a contest. There is no prize.

If Steven Pearlstein were president, he’d say the state of the union sucks.

Mixed blessing: In his article “Appalled in Greenwich Connecticut [sic],” downloadable (.pdf) from his site StumblingonTruth.com, Clifford Asness of AQR Capital Management, whom I have not read before, combines grossly unfortunate metaphor (“Unfortunately for this President, he will, I hope, find the financial community not cowering from his Cossacks on a shtetl in the Pale of Settlement (Greenwich, CT), but meeting his accusations with logic and patriotism.”) with both an entitlement mentality AND common sense (“So, how do you fix too-big-to-fail? Well, this is complicated, give me a moment. I got it. You let them fail.”). For a quant, he manipulates words real purty. I may return.

The problem with cutting Medicare and Medicaid: Abe Sauer explains.

Tax the rich! Tax the rich! Oregon’s doing it. Sort of. A little. For the first time in 80 years. But the media is all Scott “Our Next President” Brown, so if you don’t hear about this, that’s why.

Wrong AND lame: President Obama’s proposed 3-year freeze on domestic discretionary spending is not only exactly not what the economy needs in a time of depressed consumer demand, it’s also almost meaningless in its effects on the budget deficit, given that it doesn’t affect big-ticket items like defense, wars, interest on the national debt or entitlements. It’s one more example of trying to appear to people who believe you incapable of doing the right thing that you’re doing the right thing. You will never win those people over, so you ought to just go ahead and do the right thing. Simpler. More effective. Pisses off the people who are wrong. Everyone’s a winner.

Rhodes Scholar tackles spending freeze, president loses.

Related: A roundup of amusing reactions to the quote freeze unquote.

And if you want to look for budget savings, here’s a suggestion. Even George W. Bush’s last Defense Secretary thinks we’re spending too much on defense, and spending it the wrong way. Observes Spencer Ackerman, who covers this stuff for a living, “Everyone in Washington who studies the Pentagon budget quickly finds gobs and gobs of wasteful spending. Not some people. Not dirty hippies. Every. Single. Defense. Analyst.”

Can we like ACORN again? Reminder: O’Keefe’s videotapes were doctored. And August J. Pollak’s commentary on the case is short enough and good enough for you to hie thee hence and read it in its entirety. Go on. I’ll wait.

(pause)

Oh, good, you’re back. Moving on, then …

Conflict of interest: Tyler Durden points out reason to believe that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has a quite personal reason for wanting to see Bumbling Ben Bernanke reconfirmed as Fed chairman as early as Thursday.

Whoops! Not so fast, there, Fast Harry: Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., claims to have documents showing that Bernanke overruled his advisers in approving the AIG bailout. And here we thought Harry Reid was just venal. Y’know, nothing is becoming Jim Bunning’s Senate career like his leaving of it. Maybe the old guy is going senile, but he’s actually, at long last, acting in the public interest here. Or maybe he just hates Democrats. Either works for me.

Hard cases make bad law, and this hard case has led a judge to make some awful case law.

You might want to put down the knife, Ms. Quinn, because the Secret Service does NOT mess around: Obama has been advised to make sure the bunny is secure. Commenter El Cid at Balloon Juice adds, “I think it’s kind of funny that Sally Quinn goes to the trouble of asking her readers to ‘indulge [her] for a moment’, as if that woman spends the tiniest femtosecond of her life not being indulged.” And this would be funny if every other Washington journalist weren’t just like her.

The teabaggers are “good Republicans even if they don’t know it.” That’s about the best description I’ve seen.

Speaking of good Republicans, the ones doing PR for the party are just top-notch: The GOP response to the State of the Union tonight was given in — I am not making this up — the hall where Jefferson Davis was inaugurated.

The public option: C’est popular. Corporations: pas tellement: In a Research 2000 poll in 10 swing congressional districts whose seats are currently held by Democrats, a majority of Republicans favor a public option, and a plurality of Republicans, 43%, say Democrats need to do more to fight big corporations.  In the single N.C. district polled, Larry Kissell’s NC-08, voters overall favor a public option by 73% to 16%, with 11% undecided, and a 59% majority of voters, the biggest majority of any of the 10 districts, said Democrats need to do more to fight big corporations. It’d be interesting to see the results if the vague “big corporations” was changed to “banks” or “health-insurance companies” or both.

Against it for all the wrong reasons: Polling ace Nate Silver points out that part of the reason health-care reform isn’t polling as well as its supporters wish is that sizable chunks of the population believe (bad) things about the bill that are objectively untrue.

Why wouldn’t a combination of high-deductible health-insurance plans and Health Savings Accounts fix the problem? That’s pretty much the question one of my cousins asked me in an e-mail the other day. Well, Nancy, here’s your answer.

It would be funny if these people didn’t effectively control the entire U.S. school textbook market: The Texas Board of Education [sic] bans Bill Martin Jr.’s Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? from its third-grade reading list after confusing its author with that of the book Ethical Marxism.

Afghanistan Fail: The guy who once held Stanley McChrystal’s job running the U.S. military in Afghanistan and is now ambassador to Afghanistan says McChrystal’s anti-insurgency effort in Afghanistan is doomed.

Good news, for a change, for vets: Iraq and Afghanistan vets suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder but denied monthly disability benefits from the VA can join a class-action lawsuit to get their disability ratings increased to the level required by law, which will make them eligible for benefits. The relevant law was quite clear on what disability rating vets with PTSD are supposed to be assigned, so the fact that someone even had to sue over the issue is a disgrace and an outrage.

CBS: Morons: They won’t let people run factual advertisements about George W. Bush’s war crimes, but they’ll let Christianist wingnuts Focus on the Family run a forced-pregnancy ad during the Super Bowl. I think maybe I’ll just skip the game, then — all the best parts (i.e., the other commercials) will be on YouTube next day anyway. Also, I hope all the fans of Tim Tebow, who’ll star in the commercial, read this. The money quote comes from “an NFC South talent evaluator” who is most likely with the Bucs, since the Saints and Falcons are fixed for starting QBs and the Panthers have neither the money nor the draft pick to go after a potential first-round QB.

Don’t don’t-ask-don’t-tell: That well known military-hater, retired Gen. John Shalikashvili, who implemented “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says it’s time to repeal the military’s ban on openly gay people. I’d say that time actually was 1775, but I’m happy to welcome J-Shal to the bandwagon.

The lessons of Stuyvesant Town: But by all means, let’s re-confirm Ben Bernanke. Jesus wept.

Rush Limbaugh confesses that he AND the world would be better off if he killed himself: Only on The Onion, unfortunately.

Why Howard Zinn and not Rush Limbaugh?: Zinn, who came up with the radical idea that the history of a democracy shouldn’t be by and for aristocrats only, is dead at 87.

Would it be irresponsible to speculate that since he’s getting a divorce, Karl Rove is now free to woo and wed Jeff Gannon? It would be irresponsible not to.

OK, this is just weird:

You’re looking at the performance of Apple stock earlier today. That big dip came right around the announcement of the iPad. I’m not sure what it means, but I’m pretty sure it ain’t what the Apple board expected.

Best. Apple. Humor. Ever.: The Wikipedia Entry for the iPad (until today): “iPad was a prototype for a feminine hygiene product that purported to digitize a woman’s menstruation cycle and store it on a password-protected Web server.[1]“ More iPad humor here, but guys may want to give it a miss.

Keith Richards, sober? Because he was so upset by how hard Ron Wood fell off the wagon? I think The Awl says it all: “If Keith Richards stops drinking because he thinks you have a problem, well, you have a problem.”

This cannot possibly end well: George Lucas is producing a computer-animated musical.

And you thought Blog on the Run was minor-league: I’ll have you know this blog has just 35 fewer paying customers than Newsday.com, so there. And that’s after spending $4 million less on my site design than Newsday spent on theirs!

And you thought my carpal-tunnel syndrome happened because I type a lot.

How Japan intends to win the World Cup (this one goes out to my friend Beau):

(Note that the numbers on the radar are kph, not mph.)

And, finally, things journalists should know about polls:

Tuesday, January 26, 2010 11:04 pm

Hooper v. No Child Left Behind, cont.

Among the graded papers Hooper brought home today was one in which he was asked to infer and provide the meaning of a bolded word in a sentence by examining the context. The sentence was: “I pleaded with my dad for a $2 raise in my allowance.”

Hooper hadn’t the first idea what “pleaded” meant, but he offered this substitute: “did chores.” Which I thought was a pretty good guess for an 8-year-old, particularly given how things work in this house. The teacher, not so much.

The sentence also conjured in my mind this short courtroom scenario:

“How do the defendants plead?”

“Dad and I plead guilty, Your Honor.”

“The plea is accepted, and I hereby sentence you to a $2 raise in your allowance.”

Maybe it’s stuff like this that makes Michael Barone so hostile to manipulating words.

Odds and ends for 1/25

Enron may be dead, but its ghost continues to mess with us: “White House and Congressional Democratic leaders say they now believe that they have the 60 votes needed to block a filibuster of Mr. Bernanke’s reappointment.” … “… strategy on the Bernanke confirmation was being led by former Enron lobbyist Linda Robertson, who is viewed as an effective advocate for the banking chief on Capitol Hill.” But don’t worry — the president’s going on TV Wednesday night to assure us he feels our pain.

Heckuva job, Bernanke: The Fed is required by law  (12 U.S.C. § 225a) to manage monetary policy so as to create jobs for as many people as possible. True story. It also is required to report semiannually on what steps it has taken to comply with this and other requirements. What did its most recent report say about creating jobs? Not bloody much. So explain to me again why this guy should get another four years in the job.

You can pay me now or pay me (a lot more) later: Cutting early-childhood programs hurts jobs now, costs society more later, research shows. My experience covering politics leads me to believe that the kind of people who oppose this sort of spending are not, in general, the type who tend to be convinced by science/research, but, what the hell, I’ll post it anyway.

Yo, Pat, it wasn’t the devil who cursed Haiti. It was Thomas Jefferson. (h/t: Jill)

How could we help Haiti long-term? Cancel its debt, for one thing.

If anything more progressive than the Senate health-care bill is politically dangerous for Democrats, then why is the guy charged with getting Democrats elected to Congress telling Obama and the Senate to shove it?: Maybe because he has seen this polling. Retiring Rep. Marion Berry, D-Ark., on the other hand, clearly has not.

Memo to HuffPo: Your games are no fun when you let the irony-impaired play. (h/t: Beau)

Holy crap: December existing-home sales, expected to be down 10% (or, per Goldman, 15% at worst), were in fact down 16.7% from November, the biggest one-month decline in history.

Speaking of real estate, the biggest real-estate transaction in history has gone into default. Corollary: Apparently it’s OK for real-estate giant Tishman Speyer to walk away from its debts, but don’t try this with your underwater home, kids.

Prisoner’s dilemma, in that everyone who doesn’t work for Goldman Sachs is kind of a prisoner of everyone who does: Goldman Sachs’s chief bull, Jim O’Neill, has gotten somewhat ursine. So does that mean that they know the economy’s going to get worse because they’re running it, or does it mean they want us to think they think it’s getting worse so that they can bet on improvements, engineer those improvements, and win? Decisions, decisions.

Priorities in a post-peak-oil reality, from James Kunstler: “The money that went into propping up the automobile companies could have been used to rebuild the entire railroad system between Boston and the Great Lakes, and the capital squandered on AIG and its offshoot claimants could have rebuilt everything else the rest of the way to Seattle. Is it really so hard to imagine what history requires of you?”

Classifying information to cover up a crime is, itself, a crime. So it makes me very curious to know not only what about the New York Fed’s plans to bail out AIG was kept secret from the SEC on “national-security” grounds, but also why that was done.

Health-care reform: a pictorial timeline (w/generous dollops of snark).

Shorter Michael Barone: How DARE we let the people who actually know what they’re doing decide things? Bonus Stoopid: He talks about knowing how to “manipulate words” like it’s a BAD thing.

We are a polarized nation, and because that’s the case, anyone hoping to prevail in an off-year election probably needs to forget about trying to appeal to the “broad middle” because there ain’t one.

Question for Sen. Bill Nelson: What, exactly, does “the left” control? Because it sure ain’t the White House, Congress or the Supreme Court.

Memo to Andrew Breitbart: Insisting that your questions are serious is no substitute for asking serious questions.

Memo to Harold Ford: Hell, no, we’re not going to cut taxes for you and your rich friends. In fact, jackhole, you’re lucky this country does not tax Stoopid. Hey, do me a favor, dude: PLEASE run for Senate from New York with that platform. I could do with a laugh.

The stimulus saved 1.2 million jobs, but the government needs to do even more, according to a USA Today survey of 50 economists.

They say hope is not a plan, but apparently, for the Obama administration (shorter WaPo), hope was a plan. Oy.

Which is more of a plan than Congressional Democrats have on finance reform.

If you’re going to believe Hitler was a leftist, then you also have to believe … Oh, the places you’ll go!

How to steal a trillion (and a half): John Hussman explains how it’s done.

Pity the rich and their oh, so difficult lives.

Prince Charles is part switchblade. Almost literally.

Monday, January 25, 2010 12:48 pm

Time may change me, but you can trace time

One of William Faulkner’s more famous observations is that in the South, not only is the past not dead, it’s not even past. To a great extent that observation also applies to the Web.

I’ve been posting stuff on Teh Internetz for roughly 17 years. That’s a lot of stuff. And although I lost my temper or exercised bad judgment online a time or two over those 17 years, I am still OK, by and large, with pretty much anyone going and Googling as much or as little as he/she likes.

But one problem — not necessarily for me, but for people in general who post on the Internet over time — with having all of that stuff in one place is that it’s easy for a reader to forget that a lot can change in 17 years. In a NYT article on a subject I didn’t otherwise care much about, the writer makes this important issue in passing:

Not only can the past never really be erased; it co-exists, in cyberspace, with the present, and an important type of context is destroyed. This is one reason that intellectual inflexibility has become such a hallmark of modern political discourse, and why, so often, no distinction is recognized between hypocrisy and changing your mind.

Particularly in the political arena, consistency is prized and any deviation from consistency derided as “flip-flopping.” And there’s good reason for that: A lot of the change is flip-flopping.

But sometimes, a position appropriate for one set of economic or geopolitical circumstances becomes inappropriate, if not dangerous, in another. For example, because of the effect that the federal budget can have on the economy, one’s position on the merits of a balanced budget ought to be quite sensitive to current and projected economic conditions, not rigidly defined along the lines of seeking a balanced-budget amendment or stating bluntly that “deficits don’t matter.” They matter quite a lot, but the ways in which they matter vary with economic conditions.

Well, other things change, too, and although I don’t think my core principles have changed much in 17 years, the conditions to which my Web postings are a response change all the time. I think it’s perfectly appropriate, bordering on mandatory, to look at the body of a person’s work. But it’s just as appropriate to consider the context of the times. Context is not an excuse for everything, but it can add nuance, and thus clarity, to one’s understanding.

UPDATE: I’m going to take a bit of issue with the quote above, to this extent: I agree that the loss of temporal context inherent in Internet aggregation aggravates the tendency of some folks to be intellectually inflexible and to denigrate changing one’s mind as flip-flopping. But both were with us long before the Web. Jesse Helms was calling Jim Hunt a flip-flopper in North Carolina’s ’84 U.S. Senate race, and neither man, to my knowledge, had so much as sent an e-mail at that time.

Sunday, January 24, 2010 12:08 am

Odds and ends for 1/23

Insider trading at the Fed?: Or tied to the Fed, anyway. Yet one more reason to audit the thing, and I don’t mean just routine annual audits, either.

Meanwhile, over at the New York Stock Exchange, one can also find hinky goings-on.

Prop-trading ban will hit Goldman Sachs a lot harder than Goldman says, according to an independent credit analyst. In the immortal words of Al Capone, I’ll send flowers. If you own Goldman stock, you should consider the strong probability that you’re being lied to.

Roundup of stories on the prop-trading ban and related issues, here.

Whose Kiss of Death is deadlier, Fred Mishkin’s or Alan Greenspan’s? I don’t care as long as at least one of the two works as advertised and Ben Bernanke slithers back off to the private sector.

So if Bernanke doesn’t stay as Fed chair, who should get the job? Zero Hedge nominates John Taylor, whose thoughts on the roots of the current crisis can be found here. I do not agree with everything Taylor believes, but I believe that on balance he would be a substantial improvement on Bernanke. I’d like to know whether someone else might be even better.

Paul Volcker’s rise from exile to the president’s right hand helpfully resurrects a short (well, compared with Barney Frank’s 1,100-page bill) paper on restoring security and stability to the U.S. financial system.

Rx from Ezra Klein: “If Democrats abandon health-care reform in the aftermath of Brown’s victory, the lesson will be that they can’t govern. … A plumber and I both agree that my toilet should work. But if he can’t make it work, I’m not going to pay him any money or invite him into my home. Governance isn’t just about ideology. It’s also about competence and will. That’s where Democrats are flagging.”

Another Rx: The California Supreme Court ruled this week that people with prescriptions for medical marijuana can have/grow all they need, not subject to arbitrary state limits. Yeah, that increases the likelihood of abuse, but there was no medical basis for the old limits. Let doctors make that call.

My BS meter just pegged: The same Lord Hutton who certified, despite questionable evidence, that British weapons inspector David Kelly committed suicide has ordered all records in the case sealed for 70 years.

My BS meter just pegged again: Walter Isaacson reviews the new book by John Yoo in today’s NY Times without ever using the word “torture.”

S.C. Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer says we need to stop feeding poor people because they breed: I am not making this up: “You’re facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply. They will reproduce, especially ones that don’t think too much further than that. And so what you’ve got to do is you’ve got to curtail that type of behavior.” He also called for drug testing for the parents of the 58 percent of S.C. schoolkids who receive free or reduced-price lunch. I think I know who needs the drug test.

Obama adopts another trick from the Bush bag: This time, it’s having the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel retroactively legalize illegal surveillance. So that’s why the Senate never took up Dawn Johnsen‘s confirmation as head of OLC: There’s no way she’d have signed off on this crap.

The pope says priests should blog. I think that’s a great idea, but I think they’ve got other things to do first.

And finally, DJ Earworm’s annual remix of the Billboard magazine Top 25 pop songs of the year, for 2009. This year’s is called “Blame it on the Pop”:

Friday, January 22, 2010 8:21 pm

Odds and ends for 1/22

Double dip: There were 482,000 new unemployment claims for the week ending 1/16, which was 36,000 more than the previous week and 42,000 more than expected. Worse, new emergency unemployment claims, for those who’ve exhausted regular benefits, were up 652,364 to 5,654,544. If this is a green shoot, it’s the kind of green you see when things are rotting.

Theft of a lifetime: The chief strategist for a major international bank accuses the U.S. and U.K. central banks of conspiring to steal wealth from their respective countries’ middle classes. It’s actually a little more complicated than that, but only a little.

Risky business: President Obama has proposed ending proprietary trading by bank holding companies to reduce the level of risk in the market and, therefore, the risk that taxpayers will have to bail out more banks, something Paul Volcker supports. Banks have protested that this is unnecessary on the grounds that prop trading really isn’t a big part of their business (Goldman Sachs puts its prop-trade revenue at 10% of the total). However, observes Zero Hedge with a nice little chart, “the market begs to differ.” Goldman’s own analysis suggests that while prop trading accounts for perhaps 10% of Bank of America’s revenues, because of prop trading’s high margins it accounts for up to 45% of BAC’s earnings. If that’s true, BAC stock, which is supposed to double in price by the end of 2011, could fall 50% instead.

Related: Real conservatives like Obama’s proposal. American “conservatives,” however, not so much.

So, will Goldman Sachs stop being a bank holding company so that it can continue its proprietary trading?: Probably, although it’s kind of in a pickle because currently it has almost 21 billion reasons not to.

Best health-care reform political analysis. Ever: I don’t think it’s correct on the substance, but whether it is or not, I just love the pretty words: “The only path to national health care reform is to pass the Senate bill. Unless Nancy Pelosi and the House leadership can herd three distinct groups of cats — the Blue Dogs, the Stupak coat-hanger crowd and the progressives — HCR is going down in flames, quite possibly for another generation. This is where we’re at. It sucks. It also blows, a seemingly self-canceling phenomenon that is only witnessed in the rarest, most [rear-end]-tasting conditions. And we are witnessing such conditions this very day — a perfect storm of sucking and blowing. That said, if passing the Senate bill verbatim is a once-in-a-lifetime Suckicane meeting a Category 5 Blowphoon head-on, then NOT PASSING ANYTHING AT ALL takes us into the Bruckheimer-Emmerich territory of summer blockbuster-class suckstinction-level blowvents.”

Quote of the day, from Matt Taibbi, on the prop-trading restrictions: “Obviously this is good news, but what I find irritating about it is that the government only starts listening to its voters once the more corrupt option turns out to be untenable.” Yo, Matt, that ain’t true only about banking, either.

The New York Fed and AIG: A timeline, by Bloomberg. Nice.

People thought Rupert Murdoch wouldn’t ruin the Wall Street Journal. People were wrong, although the author concedes the problem is a bit more nuanced than he first claimed.

So if Glenn Beck isn’t talking about going after progressives through the political process, then what’s he talking about? Because when you say you’re going after your political opponents like the Israelis went after Eichmann, you probably know your audience understands that what awaited Eichmann was a gallows.

Barney Frank may actually have a good idea: Blowing up Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and creating a new system of housing finance. F&F didn’t cause as much of the current housing-bubble crisis as most of their critics claim, but they did contribute, oh, yes, they did.

And they say this like it’s a bad thing: ABC thinks there may not be enough votes in Congress to reconfirm Ben Bernanke. Let’s hope they’re right. Bernanke is a big reason we’re in as much trouble as we are right now.

They’re the Christian Taliban, they’re stone (no pun intended) killers, and they’re based in Newark: Yeah, that’s right: Read about the connections between the PrayforNewark social-action group, the bill in Uganda to execute gays, and the Dominionist movement in the U.S. These are scary people.

If this had been my daughter, the lawsuit would’ve been filed before the sun went down: TSA employee plants bag of white powder in college student’s carry-on luggage. Plenty of witnesses — who were afraid to speak up. Excellent! Just what you want when you’re trying to prevent terrorism — people who see something hinky but are afraid to speak up for fear of being arrested!

Apparently they can use lasers to zap away fat!: Which sounds cool, and I am so on board (assuming I can find the money) … just as soon as they figure out where the fat goes.

Odds and ends for 1/21

Does Rielle Hunter know?: Former presidential candidate John Edwards finally admits that he is the father of a former campaign staffer’s daughter. I would say “Stop the presses!” except that the presses stopped on this one a long time ago.

One last party before the walls come down: Morgan Stanley has earmarked 62% of revenues for employee compensation. Not earnings, revenues. Which is good if you’re an employee, because there were no earnings; the company posted an annual loss for the first time in its 74-year history. Goldman Sachs will be paying its employees a comparatively modest 36% of annual revenue, although that amounts to 121% of earnings. Question: What do the (non-employee) stockholders think of this?

What part of “all” did you not understand?: Rep. Darrell Issa, ranking Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is asking committee chairman Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., to hold Federal Reserve Bank of New York officials in contempt for turning over only some, but not all, subpoenaed documents relating to the AIG bailout. Zero Hedge, which has been on this subject for close to a year, helpfully offers some other questions Issa could raise.

Why do teabagger leaders hate America?: Tea Party leader arrested on first-degree rape charge; search turns up stolen Army grenade launcher; YouTube video features him planning to be a “domestic terrorist.”

Remind me again who’s not being bipartisan enough?: I happen to think the proposed commission is a horrible idea, if not unconstitutional, but still: Congressional Republicans have demonstrated repeatedly that they cannot take “yes” for an answer. Jackasses.

So. Um. Troops to Haiti — why, exactly?: Two possibilities, neither flattering.

OK, maybe the Mayans were right: Quoth DougJ at Balloon Juice, “With unlimited corporate money fueling crazed Nixon-style anger, things are going to get very, very ugly.”

I sort of want to know what exactly Spencer is talking about and I sort of don’t.

Finally, the people who know what they’re talking about get a turn: Obama pushes a Paul Volcker-backed plan to limit the size of banks, so as to eliminate the possibility of “too big to fail.” The idea here is to reduce the taxpayer’s exposure to any privately incurred risk in the financial industry. And that’s a good idea. (Know who else thinks so? Mark Zandi, the guy who advised McCain’s presidential campaign on economics.)

Purse v. policy-making: The pants-wetters want the Khalid Sheikh Muhammad trial not to be held in civilian court. Congressional Republicans are plotting to get some moron Dems to go along with them on barring funding for it. Now, why is it that the existing appropriation is in such a condition that that approach is even possible? And who would know enough about the appropriations process to have made this possible to begin with? Hint: it ain’t anyone with an R after his name.

As Alannis said, this could get messy: Sen.-elect Scott Brown got a lot of support from teabaggers, and he very quickly and publicly blew them off. We know how Rush reacts to that treatment. Let’s see how the teabaggers do.

And people wonder why I think Christianists and Islamists are essentially the same species.

Ethnic profiling won’t help: “An additional concern, [a Senate Intelligence Committee report] says, ‘is a group of nearly 10 non-Yemeni Americans who traveled to Yemen, converted to Islam, became fundamentalists, and married Yemeni women so they could remain in the country.’ One U.S. official, it reports, described them as ‘blond-haired, blue-eyed types’ who ‘fit a profile of Americans whom al-Qaeda has sought to recruit over the past several years.’”

Related: More pants-wetting. C’mon, America, man/woman up, will ya?

And even more pants-wetting, called out by Digby: “Everyone seems to forget that a year ago, Obama only had 58 votes in the Senate and everyone was in a state of near hysteria over his massive institutional power and soaring mandate. Now he has 59 and he’s suddenly impotent.”

As we turn more security operations in Afghanistan over to that country, we need to beware of residual problems.

AWOL pirate: Well, skull of pirate. Skull of total butt-kicking 14th century German pirate Klaus Störtebeker, who — and I must admit this even though I’m from North Carolina — makes Blackbeard look like Richard Simmons. Reward.

Awwww: Shiba Inu puppycam!

Thursday, January 21, 2010 10:09 pm

Useful flow chart …

Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 10:09 pm
Tags:

… especially in a house with kids:

(h/t: Vanessa)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010 10:59 pm

Anyone who tells you that there will always be a need for good writers is only correct up to a point; or, “Please check with me if you have any doubts.”

And that point has been reached in this ad by the estimable Joey Cheng:

Description
20 New York Traveling articles are needed, min 500 words for each article, all articles need to be SEO friendly. This project should be completed within 5 days. You only will be pay total of $60USD upon completion of all articles.

PLEASE SEND ME A SAMPLE ARTICLE TO BE CONSIDERED

Job Description:
- New York traveling knowledge is a must.
- Have experience in using WordPress. * if you have a wordpress blog or any blog, show me.
- Write articles (20 articles within 5 days)
-Need to submit at least 4 articles daily
- Good communication (at least 1 post at the message board to communicate a day)
- Follow all requirements

Job Requirements:
- Articles must be completed on time
- Articles need to be put into WordPress site. * I will create a WordPress account for you to put in articles.
- English should be your first language. Please do not attempt to apply for this job if English is not your first language (US English)
- All external sources must be referenced!
Article Requirements:
- Minimum 500 words per article
Excellent written English (proper sentence structure and vocabulary use and perfect grammar)
- Each articles must be well research
- Articles must be at least 100% original
- Articles must pass copyscape and other duplication test, no plagiarism
- 100% correct punctuation and grammar!
- Individual keyword density must be between 2% to 2.5% (keywords will be provided)

TIP: To increase article acceptance writer should try to add your own experience talk to the article.

Payment Details:
- writers will be paid $60 USD via Paypal upon completion of all articles.
- If articles do not pass test they will be rejected and you will need to rewrite it.
- Payment will be send via PayPal within 48 hours after the whole project (all articles) have been accepted.

Copyright:
We retain full ownership of all the articles with complete copyright to use, publish, etc. on any of our web sites of all work purchased from you.

*Please check with me if you have any doubts.
I am a sincere service buyer. Please send me any information about you that you
think will qualify you to complete this job on time and with quality work.

Please contact me at flarebusiness@gmail.com

OK, Joey, I’ll contact you.

So, Dear Joey:

I’m writing to let you know that you’re a douche. After “Each articles must be well research,” how could I not?

I looked at the above-linked job ad and did the math. Odd, I know; I was an English major. But work with me.

I calculated that you’re asking the writers you hire to produce 10,000 words of copy in five days for three-fifths of a penny per word.

Let me introduce you to the real world. That would be the world in which reputable publications have been paying freelancers roughly a buck a word for my entire adult life (I’m 50). That would be the world in which freelancers sell only first North American serial rights, retaining all others. That would be the world in which 10,000 words is approaching one-quarter of a novel. And assuming that those 10,000 words were produced in five eight-hour days, that would be the world in which you’re paying the equivalent of $1.50 an hour. The minimum wage passed that level a few years ago — 42 years ago, to be exact. And $1.50 in 1968 would be worth roughly $9.18 today.

The sad part is, you’ll probably find plenty of poor, uninformed suckers who will jump at this. But some of us who do this for a living know better. And those of us who know better and have blogs are gonna let the whole world know what a douche you are.

Cheers,

Lex

Odds and ends for 1/20

Guantanamo homicides update: Col. Michael Bumgarner, the officer at the center of Scott Horton’s article in Harper’s about the “suicides” of three Guantanamo detainees on the night of June 9, 2006, issues a non-denial denial, including denying ever knowing the same witness whose Army Commendation Medal certificate he had signed less than three weeks before the deaths. If that’s the best he can do to cover something up, he’d better get a lawyer.

And speaking of homicides, a memo to the president: Inviting Rick Warren to pray around your inaugural, misguided as it was, is one thing. But attending an event sponsored by the Christofascist anticonstitutionalists The Family is just ridiculous. And sitting down to eat At. A. Freakin’. PRAYER BREAKFAST with a guy who is trying to legislate homicide (a fact that the article in the Ugandan paper, whose Web site claims it offers “truth every day,” conveniently forgot to mention)? Completely, flatly, absolutely unacceptable.

What you don’t know can hurt you: Did you know that the EPA has not banned asbestos despite its clear causal relationship to lung cancer? Did you know that it can’t? I didn’t. But apparently the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act makes it impossible. Fortunately, some changes to the law — which endangers the health of not only consumers and chemical workers but also the medical personnel who treat the latter — are in the works.

Things you should know about Afghanistan: Bribery is 23% of GDP, and the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction says that about three-fourths of its investigations involve at least one Westerner.

Things you should know about banks, courtesy of David Stockman, once Ronald Reagan’s budget director: “The baleful reality is that the big banks, the freakish offspring of the Fed’s easy money, are dangerous institutions, deeply embedded in a bull market culture of entitlement and greed. This is why the Obama tax is welcome: its underlying policy message is that big banking must get smaller because it does too little that is useful, productive or efficient.”

Things you should know about the fault line that caused the Haiti earthquake, particularly if you live in the Dominican Republic: “It is important that the world takes [Purdue seismologist Eric] Calais’ warning about the Septentrional Fault, with a great deal of Urgency. The fault, which runs through the Northern Dominican Republic is due for a quake even larger than that which occurred in Haiti. The Dominican Republic should learn all that it can from Haiti’s experience, as they are proverbially walking down a geological hallway with a large kick me sign affixed to their back.” With very cool, very scary maps.

Professionals face the threat of the amateur: This article focuses specifically on certain types of musicians, but it makes clear that the boundary delineating amateur from professional is growing thinner and grayer in a wide range of areas (including my former bidness, journalism). This tension has been manifest since the medieval rise of craft guilds and informs today everything from blogging to labor law.

And bloggers are killing journalism: Jeffrey Birnbaum, a journalist who has done more to expose the malignant effect of lobbyists on Congress than perhaps any other, is leaving journalism to become a lobbyist. This is not unlike the Mafia luring away the nation’s best FBI agent. Actually, it’s worse: Lobbyists are a bigger plague on society than the Mafia in terms of dollar value of the damage they cause, and there were already far fewer journalists of Birnbaum’s caliber and expertise than there are FBI agents. Sigh.

Opposition to gay marriage faces the threat of the McCains: Sen. John McCain’s wife Cindy has joined the “NoH8″ campaign in California to repeal Prop 8, which banned gay marriage. (Their daughter Meghan joined last summer.) Good for her.

Interesting poll results you probably haven’t seen on TV: By a 3-2 margin, people who voted for Obama in 2008 AND who voted for Republican Scott Brown in Tuesday’s U.S. Senate election in Massachusetts oppose the current health-care bill — not because it goes too far, but because it doesn’t go far enough.

Marrying insight and brevity, Brad at Sadly, No! sums up the meaning of Tuesday’s election: “People will support you if they see that you’re making their lives better. If you don’t do that, then they’ll get [angry] and vote for whatever else is around. And guess what? ‘Whatever else is around’ is, sadly, the [expletive] GOP.”

And after Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling legalizing corporate contributions to politicians, the U.S. will look like Italy: Italian lawmakers have preliminarily approved a bill that would retroactively limit the length of criminal trials, which would have the entirely incidental and coincidental (I’m sure) effect of making pending corruption and tax fraud charges against prime minister Silvio Berluscone just … go away.

Great moments in editing, via my friend Alex Johnson at MSNBC.

And, finally, the Quote of the Day, from Jon Walker — it’s long, so I put it at the end:

Let me put this as simply as possible. Democrats control everything in Washington right now [except SCOTUS, but for legislative purposes, yeah -- Lex]. They control the White House. They have huge margins in the House and in the Senate. Democrats have larger margins in both chambers than any party has had for decades. They have zero excuses for failing to deliver. Americans will not find some nonsense about having only 59 Senate seats as an acceptable excuse for failing to accomplish anything. If Democrats think they can win in 2010 by running against Republican obstructionism, they will lose badly.

Not only will Democrats lose badly if they adopt this strategy, but they will be laughed at. Republicans never had 59 Senate seats, and that did not stop them from passing the legislation they wanted. Trying to explain to the American people how, despite controlling everything, Democrats cannot do anything, because a mean minority of 41 Republican senators won’t let them, is a message that will go over like a lead balloon. If you try to use that excuse, people will think elected Democrats are liars, wimps, idiots, or an ineffectual combination of all three.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010 10:05 pm

The Massachusetts Senate election, thoughts on:

(in no particular order)

  • If you’re a lousy candidate, you deserve to lose.
  • If you run a lousy campaign, you deserve to lose.
  • If you adopt an entitlement mentality toward elective office, you really deserve to lose.
  • It’s OK to pose nude for a magazine if you’re a Republican male.
  • I’m still trying to find in the Constitution where it says that 41 votes constitutes a Senate majority.
  • The banksters just got another ally in Congress. Like they were running out.
  • Health-care reform may or may not be dead. But, as Jon Stewart pointed out, if the Democrats want to pass it, they’re first going to have to go to the school nurse and get their testicles unglued from their thigh. (Stewart actually said “again,” but they haven’t done it since 1965.)
  • If health-care reform really is dead for another generation, then so, over that generation, will be hundreds of thousands of Americans who didn’t have to be. But y’all over at Fox News just party on, yo, cuz I know that’s how you roll.

Odds and ends for 1/19

He got that nickname the old-fashioned way: Blogger Ben Shapiro betrays such staggering ignorance of how the world and people work that he was long ago dubbed “The Virgin Ben.” He has branched out into writing about cinema for know-nothing blogger blowhard Andrew Breitbart’s Big Hollywood site, and his virgin effort there suggests that he has never so much as held hands in a movie theater, either. (Tintin has better snark on this subject than I do.)

Dead. Bank. Walking: Citi lost $7.6B in 4Q2009. It should have been nationalized a year ago.

Why does Lisa Murkowski hate clean air and her own constituents’ villages?: On Wednesday, the Senate will vote on a measure sponsored by Lisa Murkowski, the Alaska Republican who is the leading beneficiary of utility-industry political contributions, to gut the Clean Air Act. Murkowski’s bill was written by two staffers she hired away from lobbying positions with the utility industry.

You know all those YouTube clips from the movie “Downfall” that have Hitler raging about everything from subprime mortgages to “The Tonight Show”?: The director of “Downfall” loves ‘em. It makes me happy to know that.

So far the good guys are winning: Blogger Marcy Wheeler, herself a lawyer, says the plaintiffs’ attorneys in Perez v. Schwarzenegger are outlawyerin’ the attorneys for the defendants (i.e., gay-marriage opponents). She also says science is winning, which is even better news.

More from Marcy: “Call me crazy, but …”: The FBI, between 2002 and 2006, illegally collected more than 2,000 U.S. telephone-call records. “Call me crazy,” Marcy says, “but since we know the FBI and NSA were illegally wiretapping organizations like al-Haramain in 2004, you have to wonder whether this was an attempt to clean up poison fruit from earlier, even more illegal surveillance.” OK, Crazy Lady, yes, we do have to wonder this. But only ’til the forthcoming Inspector General report proves it, I suspect. UPDATE: IG report here (306pp .pdf); as of early 1/21, I haven’t read it.

Some of the best and worst of local-TV journalism, all in one clip. (h/t Neill McNeill on FB) Contrast with this, on an arguably far more serious subject.

Racism is dead. OK, maybe not. (Warning: If you read the comments under that column, your brain cells that die will not be replaced.)

Public service: Alan Wolfe reads Game Change so you don’t have to. Bonus: He concludes that the DFHs are right.

Public screwing: The Charlotte Observer lays off more people. Memo to newspapers: You can’t cut your way out of this crisis. Memo to commenters: It ain’t the bias, it’s the advertising, and, oh, by the way, I’d really like a 7.0 earthquake to take out your house tonight while leaving your neighbors’ untouched, you self-righteous jackasses.

Shorter James Kunstler: Reality will not ignore YOU (Where have I heard that before?): “… reality doesn’t care what anybody believes, or what story they put out.  Reality doesn’t ‘spin.’ Reality does not have a self-image problem.  Reality does not yield its workings to self-esteem management. These days, Americans don’t like reality very much because it won’t let them push it around. Reality is an implacable force and the only question for human beings in the face of it is: what will you do?”

RIP: Carl Smith and Kate McGarrigle.

Have they found a real, live (dead) chupacabra?: Nah. But it sure looked like one.

Monday, January 18, 2010 10:33 pm

Cover-up of a triple homicide

Those three simultaneous suicides at Guantanamo on the night of June 9-10, 2006? As Scott Horton makes clear in this article for Harper’s, they most likely were not suicides at all:

… the U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service, which has primary investigative jurisdiction within the naval base, issued a report supporting the account originally advanced by [Guantanamo commander Real Adm. Harry] Harris, now a vice-admiral in command of the Sixth Fleet. The Pentagon declined to make the NCIS report public, and only when pressed with Freedom of Information Act demands did it disclose parts of the report, some 1,700 pages of documents so heavily redacted as to be nearly incomprehensible. The NCIS report was carefully cross-referenced and deciphered by students and faculty at the law school of Seton Hall University in New Jersey, and their findings, released in November 2009, made clear why the Pentagon had been unwilling to make its conclusions public. The official story of the prisoners’ deaths was full of unacknowledged contradictions, and the centerpiece of the report—a reconstruction of the events—was simply unbelievable.

According to the NCIS, each prisoner had fashioned a noose from torn sheets and T-shirts and tied it to the top of his cell’s eight-foot-high steel-mesh wall. Each prisoner was able somehow to bind his own hands, and, in at least one case, his own feet, then stuff more rags deep down into his own throat. We are then asked to believe that each prisoner, even as he was choking on those rags, climbed up on his washbasin, slipped his head through the noose, tightened it, and leapt from the washbasin to hang until he asphyxiated. The NCIS report also proposes that the three prisoners, who were held in non-adjoining cells, carried out each of these actions almost simultaneously.

Al-Zahrani, according to the report, was discovered first, at 12:39 a.m., and taken by several Alpha Block guards to the camp’s detention medical clinic. No doctors could be found there, nor the phone number for one, so a clinic staffer dialed 911. During this time, other guards discovered Al-Utaybi. Still others discovered Al-Salami a few minutes later. Although rigor mortis had already set in—indicating that the men had been dead for at least two hours—the NCIS report claims that an unnamed medical officer attempted to resuscitate one of the men, and, in attempting to pry open his jaw, broke his teeth.

The fact that at least two of the prisoners also had cloth masks affixed to their faces, presumably to prevent the expulsion of the rags from their mouths, went unremarked by the NCIS, as did the fact that standard operating procedure at Camp Delta required the Navy guards on duty after midnight to “conduct a visual search” of each cell and detainee every ten minutes. The report claimed that the prisoners had hung sheets or blankets to hide their activities and shaped more sheets and pillows to look like bodies sleeping in their beds, but it did not explain where they were able to acquire so much fabric beyond their tightly controlled allotment, or why the Navy guards would allow such an obvious and immediately observable deviation from permitted behavior. Nor did the report explain how the dead men managed to hang undetected for more than two hours or why the Navy guards on duty, having for whatever reason so grievously failed in their duties, were never disciplined.

Unfortunately for the government, some new witnesses have come forward, including Army Staff Sgt. Joseph Hickman, who was sergeant of the guard at the camp on the night in question, and some of the men under his command.

Among other things, Hickman saw a van nicknamed the “paddy wagon” leave the camp three times that evening, each time after guards loaded a prisoner into the rear of the van.

Hickman says he saw nothing more of note until about 11:30 p.m, when he had returned to his preferred vantage at Tower 1. As he watched, the paddy wagon returned to Camp Delta. This time, however, the Navy guards did not get out of the van to enter Camp 1. Instead, they backed the vehicle up to the entrance of the medical clinic, as if to unload something.

At approximately 11:45 p.m.—nearly an hour before the NCIS claims the first body was discovered—Army Specialist Christopher Penvose, preparing for a midnight shift in Tower 1, was approached by a senior Navy NCO. Penvose told me that the NCO—who, following standard operating procedures, wore no name tag—appeared to be extremely agitated. He instructed Penvose to go immediately to the Camp Delta chow hall, identify a female senior petty officer who would be dining there, and relay to her a specific code word. Penvose did as he was instructed. The officer leapt up from her seat and immediately ran out of the chow hall.

Another thirty minutes passed. Then, as Hickman and Penvose both recall, Camp Delta suddenly “lit up”—stadium-style flood lights were turned on, and the camp became the scene of frenzied activity, filling with personnel in and out of uniform. Hickman headed to the clinic, which appeared to be the center of activity, to learn the reason for the commotion. He asked a distraught medical corpsman what had happened. She said three dead prisoners had been delivered to the clinic. Hickman recalled her saying that they had died because they had rags stuffed down their throats, and that one of them was severely bruised. Davila told me he spoke to Navy guards who said the men had died as the result of having rags stuffed down their throats.

Hickman was concerned that such a serious incident could have occurred in Camp 1 on his watch. He asked his tower guards what they had seen. Penvose, from his position at Tower 1, had an unobstructed view of the walkway between Camp 1 and the medical clinic—the path by which any prisoners who died at Camp 1 would be delivered to the clinic. Penvose told Hickman, and later confirmed to me, that he saw no prisoners being moved from Camp 1 to the clinic. In Tower 4 (it should be noted that Army and Navy guard-tower designations differ), another Army specialist, David Caroll, was forty-five yards from Alpha Block, the cell block within Camp 1 that had housed the three dead men. He also had an unobstructed view of the alleyway that connected the cell block itself to the clinic. He likewise reported to Hickman, and confirmed to me, that he had seen no prisoners transferred to the clinic that night, dead or alive.

So the prisoners almost certainly were not, on that evening, where the official report claimed their bodies had been found.

The investigation that followed was riddled with irregularities:

On June 10, NCIS investigators began interviewing the Navy guards in charge of Alpha Block, but after the Pentagon committed itself to the suicide narrative, they appear to have stopped. On June 14, the interviews resumed, and the NCIS informed at least six Navy guards that they were suspected of making false statements or failing to obey direct orders. No disciplinary action ever followed.

The investigators conducted interviews with guards, medics, prisoners, and officers. As the Seton Hall researchers note, however, nothing in the NCIS report suggests that the investigators secured or reviewed the duty roster, the prisoner-transfer book, the pass-on book, the records of phone and radio communications, or footage from the camera that continuously monitored activity in the hallways, all of which could have helped them authoritatively reconstruct the events of that evening.

The NCIS did, however, move swiftly to seize every piece of paper possessed by every single prisoner in Camp America, some 1,065 pounds of material, much of it privileged attorney-client correspondence. Several weeks later, authorities sought an after-the-fact justification. The Justice Department—bolstered by sworn statements from Admiral Harris and from Carol Kisthardt, the special agent in charge of the NCIS investigation—claimed in a U.S. district court that the seizure was appropriate because there had been a conspiracy among the prisoners to commit suicide. Justice further claimed that investigators had found suicide notes and argued that the attorney-client materials were being used to pass communications among the prisoners.

David Remes, a lawyer who opposed the Justice Department’s efforts, explained the practical effect of the government’s maneuvers. The seizure, he said, “sent an unmistakable message to the prisoners that they could not expect their communications with their lawyers to remain confidential. The Justice Department defended the massive breach of the attorney-client privilege on the account of the deaths on June 9 and the asserted need to investigate them.”

[snip]

Military pathologists connected with the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology arranged immediate autopsies of the three dead prisoners, without securing the permission of the men’s families. The identities and findings of the pathologists remain shrouded in extraordinary secrecy, but the timing of the autopsies suggests that medical personnel stationed at Guantánamo may have undertaken the procedure without waiting for the arrival of an experienced medical examiner from the United States. Each of the heavily redacted autopsy reports states unequivocally that “the manner of death is suicide” and, more specifically, that the prisoner died of “hanging.” Each of the reports describes ligatures that were found wrapped around the prisoner’s neck, as well as circumferential dried abrasion furrows imprinted with the very fine weave pattern of the ligature fabric and forming an inverted “V” on the back of the head. This condition, the anonymous pathologists state, is consistent with that of a hanging victim.

The pathologists place the time of death “at least a couple of hours” before the bodies were discovered, which would be sometime before 10:30 p.m. on June 9. Additionally, the autopsy of Al-Salami states that his hyoid bone was broken, a phenomenon usually associated with manual strangulation, not hanging.

The report asserts that the hyoid was broken “during the removal of the neck organs.” An odd admission, given that these are the very body parts—the larynx, the hyoid bone, and the thyroid cartilage—that would have been essential to determining whether death occurred from hanging, from strangulation, or from choking. These parts remained missing when the men’s families finally received their bodies.

All the families requested independent autopsies. The Saudi prisoners were examined by Saeed Al-Ghamdy, a pathologist based in Saudi Arabia. Al-Salami, from Yemen, was inspected by Patrice Mangin, a pathologist based in Switzerland. Both pathologists noted the removal of the structure that would have been the natural focus of the autopsy: the throat. Both pathologists contacted the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, requesting the missing body parts and more information about the previous autopsies. The institute did not respond to their requests or queries. (It also did not respond to a series of calls I placed requesting information and comment.)

When Al-Zahrani viewed his son’s corpse, he saw evidence of a homicide. “There was a major blow to the head on the right side,” he said. “There was evidence of torture on the upper torso, and on the palms of his hand. There were needle marks on his right arm and on his left arm.” None of these details are noted in the U.S. autopsy report. “I am a law enforcement professional,” Al-Zahrani said. “I know what to look for when examining a body.”

Mangin, for his part, expressed particular concern about Al-Salami’s mouth and throat, where he saw “a blunt trauma carried out against the oral region.” The U.S. autopsy report mentions an effort at resuscitation, but this, in Mangin’s view, did not explain the severity of the injuries. He also noted that some of the marks on the neck were not those he would normally associate with hanging.

Let’s be very clear about what Americans are being asked to think here. We’re expected to believe that three men who not only had not been charged with any crime but who also were probably within weeks of being freed all committed suicide within a few minutes of one another in the early-morning hours of June 10, 2006. We’re further expected to believe this despite autopsies that were at best botched and more likely sabotaged, despite clear forensic and testimonial evidence that they died at least two hours earlier than reported, and despite clear evidence of blunt-force trauma inconsistent with not only this particular type of suicide but with any mode of suicide that would be an option for a man in a chain-link cell.

I call bullshit. And although this happened under the previous administration, likely pursuant to orders given by President Bush himself, I call our current commander-in-chief and his Attorney General, Eric Holder, who both appear to be dead set on continuing the cover-up, accessories after the fact to murder.

Odds and ends for 1/18

Memo from the NY Times to the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission: Public hearings are good, but subpoenaing documents is better. Yup. Banksters committed fraud on a massive scale. This commission isn’t a law-enforcement agency, but what it finds can help Justice and SEC investigators do their jobs. In fact, it may force them to do their jobs, which a mere sense of duty has not, so far, sufficed to do.

More from the FCIC: The head securities regulator for the state of Texas testifies about how the feds have kneecapped state investigators/investigations, not because they would do a better job but to protect the very people they’re supposed to be regulating. Biggest. Fraud. In. History.

Memo to right-wing nuts (and anyone else, although I suspect only the wingnuts would be stupid enough to try this): Do not invite journalists into your home, sit for an interview and then demand their tapes at gunpoint, because your ass will go to prison and your wallet will go to the journalists. Having once covered the Klan, I’m taking particular satisfaction in the outcome of this case.

The Fed elides oversight and political meddling because it thinks you and I are too stupid to know the difference. Stupid Fed.

Darrell Issa wants Ben Bernanke and Hank Paulson to testify about the AIG bailout. So do I, but Issa has a little more leverage than I do. Uh, Democrats, that slamming sound you hear is Issa walking out the back door with your populist mandate for 2010.

More fraud uncovered: This time, short-sale fraud. And wonder of wonders, it’s CNBC that has uncovered it. Memo to Mary Schapiro: When CNBC looks both more honest and more industrious than the SEC, then you are officially Teh Suck.

For once, J.P. Morgan outperforms Goldman Sachs … if, by “outperform,” you mean, “directs an even more inexcusably large percentage of its total revenues to banker bonuses”64 percent of revenues. Not of profits, of revenues. Remember, Morgan, like the other 37 banks reviewed by the WSJ, has significant amounts of crap disguised as assets on its balance sheets, and even more crap off the sheets that soon will have to be moved onto the sheets. And are the banks setting aside capital to cover the inevitable write-downs? No, they’re buying helicopters and Hamptons houses.

If voters could vote on Obama’s financial appointments they way they can vote on Chris Dodd, Obama would be paging a lot of empty offices. For good reason.

Liberal academia? Yes — because conservatives choose disproportionately not to become college professors. These findings, albeit not yet published, are consistent with some earlier research.

Who killed Pat Robertson? Why, it was Lily Coyle, in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune (2nd letter down), with a clue.

Freedom’s just another word for no one left to screw: Retiring Sen. Chris Dodd could be scrapping the proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency before he goes.

Well, it’s a step: The U.S. releases the names of 645 detainees at Bagram. Good. But some  of those people have been held for years without even being told why. Not good.

PhrMA theatens to blow up health-care reform. A friend of mine has proposed that any attempt to make a profit off health care should be made a crime. I think that’s extreme, but when stuff like this happens, I understand the anger that gives rise to such suggestions.

Dawn Johnsen might say torture is illegal. Therefore, she cannot possibly be allowed to run Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel, or else the terrorists win.

Memo to special prosecutor John Durham: In the marathon investigation of the destruction of CIA torture videos, the DFHs are eating your lunch. Bet they aren’t charging the government as much as you, too.

All of a sudden, “conservatives” are in favor of privacy. And it’s interesting how the kind of privacy they favor dovetails neatly with protecting them from being held accountable for their actions. Just a coincidence, I’m sure.

If you’re following Perez v. Schwarzenegger and it sounds awfully like Dover v. Kitzmiller, well,  there’s a reason for that: In both cases, science is/was under siege. Science won in Dover. Let’s see what happens in Perez.

Republicans, having fed off the productive among us for so long, are now simply outraged that one of their own is doing it to them. More specifically, their cynical selection of Michael Steele as national chairman to try to appeal to African American voters now means that even though he needs firing and is daring them to fire him, they can’t do it.

Why does Rush Limbaugh hate the troops? And why do the troops continue to air him on Armed Forces Radio when he hates them?

More map pr0n! Geocurrents has created a map blog tied to news events.

Thought for the day: Requiring drug tests for welfare recipients makes sense only if we also drug-test recipients of federal earthquake relief, tax credits and bank bailouts. Despite what you may have been told, your odds of getting into Heaven do NOT increase in direct proportion to the number of times you kick poor people.

“Never (annoy) a walrus.” Because if you do, the bucket is the least of your problems.

Sunday, January 17, 2010 8:51 pm

They’re doing it again

Filed under: We're so screwed — Lex @ 8:51 pm
Tags:

Guest poster Deadhead at Zero Hedge explains how the banksters are screwing us yet again and making another big banking crash more likely. In summary (paraphrased):

  • Banks have a lot of assets on their books that they claim are worth far more than they actually are worth.
  • Moreover, a bunch of worthless assets that banks have been carrying off their balance sheets now must be moved back on their balance sheets this quarter.
  • Because banks generally made a tidy profit in the fourth quarter of 2009, they ought to be setting that money aside to cover for the crap that will begin showing up on their books soon, instead of paying those profits to themselves as bonuses.
  • But they’re not, and the FDIC is letting them get away with it for at least the next year and a half.
  • The banks’ behavior is not in the best interests of their stock- and bondholders. But screw them.
  • Instead of making the banks do the right thing, so as to reduce their risk of failure and additional cost to taxpayers, “our regulators have simply put their fingers in their ears and started yelling ‘La, La, La, La, I can’t hear you.’”

That’s pretty much it. We still haven’t done anything about “too big to fail.” We still haven’t done anything to reduce systemic risk. And when, not if, this newest house of cards collapses, you and I will be on the hook while the banksters will lose nothing. And nobody of either party — not the president, not the Congress, not the regulators — is doing anything about this.

Saturday, January 16, 2010 12:53 am

How to help Haiti

Links where you can contribute to Haiti earthquake relief:

Oxfam
American Red Cross
AmeriCares
Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders

As in most other major disasters, the main thing these organizations need right now is money.* Their experts will know how best to spend it, what’s needed where, etc. In other words, right at the moment, rounding up clothing or canned food or bandages or what-have-you, although certainly well-intentioned, is less helpful than giving these groups the resources to do what they know best how to do. As they identify particular needs, they’ll publicize them.

Anything you can give will help. And please give something. The suffering there is already horrendous, and it will quickly get even worse than most of us can possibly imagine.

*Unless you have a helicopter.

NOTE: This is a “sticky” post, meaning it stays at the top of the page. New content appears directly underneath this post.

I could have been seeing Carbon Leaf in Raleigh tonight. But NOOOOOO …

Filed under: Fun,Hooper — Lex @ 12:47 am
Tags: , ,

At least Hooper had a blast.

The kids are all right

Filed under: Hooper,Victoria — Lex @ 12:29 am
Tags: ,

Hooper and Victoria, January 2010

Sunrise

Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 12:27 am
Tags:

In front of my office, sunrise on my 50th birthday:

Emptying the phonecam, trimming the tree

Filed under: Hooper — Lex @ 12:25 am
Tags: ,

Hooper, December 2009:

Friday, January 15, 2010 7:15 pm

Odds and ends for 1/15

Why Haiti is so poor: Because it’s an abused nation, David Brooks, you staggeringly stupid person.

The Fort Hood Shootings: DOD’s official report, out today. Haven’t had time to read it.

But Fox News is cracking down on inaccuracy! Really!: The author of a study that Fox claims proves we’re entering a “mini ice age” says, “I don’t know what to do. They just make these things up.”

Relatedly, global-warming denialism is becoming (surprise!) big business.

The Politico has a scoop! “GOP leaders have privately settled on a strategy to win back the House by putting the vast majority of their money and energy into attacking Democrats — and turning this election into a national referendum on the party in power.” Because Wow! They’ve never done that before! [headdesk]

“I want uninterrupted expertise.” Who cares what the public thinks?

For God’s sake, no one tell David Broder: The public thinks bipartisanship is less important than principles. Richard Burr gets this. Does Kay Hagan?

The National Center for Counterterrorism? Has serious problems.

Don’t ask. Don’t tell. Plan: The Pentagon is preparing for the likelihood that DADT will be repealed. Good. Whether they like it or not, Obama certainly campaigned on repeal, so they at least ought to be prepared.

If Joe Lieberman doesn’t like being called “untrustworthy,” maybe he should stop acting, you know, untrustworthy. Because otherwise, a blog not predisposed to liking Joe very much might throw an impromptu contest to see who can come up with the best synonym for “untrustworthy” (oh, so NSFW), and that would be simply awful.

“The costs of imprecision” are staggering and growing.

One of history’s biggest arguments, settled. (I win.) (h/t: Fred)

ZOMG! Real-life “Calvin & Hobbes” snowmen!

Reason No. 4,298 why I love FailBlog (h/t Jill, who had to be a student in sex-ed classes taught by her mom at both school AND church, which must be, like, a preadolescent’s worst nightmare):

Wings over America

Filed under: Cool! — Lex @ 7:07 pm
Tags: , ,

My college friend Gus, an air-traffic controller, probably sees stuff like this all the time. But it’s new to me, and inasmuch as it feeds my hankering for map pr0n, it’s way cool:

Sitting down to stand up

Filed under: Salute! — Lex @ 7:06 pm
Tags: , , ,

“And she said, ‘Boys, I am so proud of you. I only regret that you didn’t do this 10 years ago.’ Under my breath I said, ‘Lady, what do you expect? I’m only 17 years old.’”

Franklin McCain, one of the three surviving members of the Greensboro Four, black students at N.C. A&T who sat at a whites-only lunch counter at the Woolworth’s in downtown Greensboro on Feb. 1, 1960, speaking Thursday night at Elon University’s law school. (Recorded by my friend and former colleague Doug Clark of the N&R.)

(Video coming here soon.)

Thursday, January 14, 2010 11:10 pm

Girl Scout cookies. Made with real Girl Scouts!

Victoria’s in her fifth year of Girl Scouts, and it’s only now occurring to me to let y’all know that if you’d like to buy Girl Scout cookies, she’s sellin’. My parenting skills? Suck. If you’re in the Greensboro area, call or e-mail (the addy is on the “About” link on the right side of this page) and we’ll set you up.

John Stossel is a corporate whore, Chapter MDCCCLXXXIII

Filed under: Aiee! Teh stoopid! It burns! — Lex @ 11:07 pm
Tags: ,

John Stossel used to work for NBC until his corporate whoredom became so overt that even parent company GE couldn’t take it anymore. (Think about that.) Now he’s with Fox News, where his particular brand of Teh Stoopid finds its natural home. Claiming that “economic freedom saves lives,” he quotes George Mason University Economist Don Boudreaux:

(T)he Haitian earthquake killed tens of thousands of people. But the quake that hit California’s Bay Area in 1989 was also of magnitude 7.0. It killed only 63 people. This difference is due chiefly to Americans’ greater wealth. With one of the freest economies in the world, Americans build stronger homes and buildings, and have better health-care and better search and rescue equipment. In contrast, burdened by one of the world’s least-free economies, Haitians cannot afford to build sturdy structures. Nor can they afford the health-care and emergency equipment that we take for granted here in the U.S.

These stark facts should be a lesson for those who insist that human habitats are made more dangerous, and human lives put in greater peril, by freedom of commerce and industry.

I’d like to get to bed sometime tonight so I’m not going to unpack every steaming, stinking turd in these two grafs, but I’ll address a couple.

Boudreaux implies that the U.S. is freer than Haiti. Fact is, 1) Haiti was pretty much lawless even before Tuesday and 2) these sturdier American buildings aren’t sturdier because of freedom, they’re sturdier because the government required them to be.

Also, anyone who honestly thinks that freedom of commerce and industry do NOT put human lives in greater peril needs to learn about the tobacco industry … and, for that matter the “corn” (read: high-fructose corn syrup) industry.

Odds and ends for 1/14

First, the important stuff: Links where you can contribute to Haiti earthquake relief:

Oxfam
American Red Cross
AmeriCares
Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders

As in most other major disasters, the main thing these organizations need right now is money.* Their experts will know how best to spend it, what’s needed where, etc. In other words, right at the moment, rounding up clothing or canned food or bandages or what-have-you, although certainly well-intentioned, is less helpful than giving these groups the resources to do what they know best how to do. As they identify particular needs, they’ll publicize them.

Anything you can give will help. And please give something. The suffering there is already horrendous, and it will quickly get even worse than most of us can possibly imagine.

*Unless you have a helicopter.

OK, then …

HUNGRY vampire squid: Goldman Sachs didn’t get just 100 cents on the dollar on its exposure to AIG, courtesy of the taxpayers. No, by reselling its AIG credit-default obligations while knowing the taxpayers were going to bail out AIG, but before that info became public, it effectively got more. About $1.2 billion more.

Which is a big part of the problem: Pat Robertson is far more important than you will ever be.

Remember, she reads every newspaper, too: Glenn Beck: Who’s your favorite Founding Father? Sarah Palin: All of ‘em.

Which dinosaur?: A shark described as “dinosaur-sized” attacked and apparently ate a swimmer Tuesday off Cape Town, South Africa. But they didn’t say whether they meant this dinosaur or this one.

Lighter backpacks: Obviously, colleges are going to switch to electronic textbooks to save students money. That move now has a deadline in California: 2020, which seems a bit far off considering that almost two-thirds of the roughly 13,000 textbook titles published by the six largest U.S. publishers already are available electronically.

“If you are watching this video, then I have been murdered by the president of Guatemala hit men I hired myself”: A UN commission concludes that the “assassination” of a lawyer, alleged in a posthumous video to have been ordered by Guatemala’s president, actually was arranged by the lawyer himself in an attempt to destabilize the government. Dude, if you wanted him out, why not just run against him?

You know that scene in “Waterworld” where Kevin Costner drinks his own pee?: The astronauts are feeling his pain.

China vs. Google: Is it really China vs. the U.S.? And was this hack attack, if not a cyber-Pearl Harbor, at the least a dangerous breach of national security?

Senate health-care bill: “A teacher tax, not a Cadillac tax.”

Related: Who needs Republicans when the unions are just as willing to screw the middle class?

Um, ‘cuz they’re, I don’t know, WHORES?!?: Retiring Republican Rep. John Shadegg, asked whether he supports a public option: “Well, you could better defend a public option than you could defend compelling me to buy a product from the people that have created the problem. America’s health insurance industry has wanted this bill and the individual mandate from the get go. That’s their idea. Their idea is, ‘Look, our product is so lousy that lots of people don’t buy it. So we need the government to force people to buy our product.’ And stunningly, that’s what the Congress appears to be going along with. Why would they do that?”

Except it wasn’t hindsight, jackass: I could’ve told you this on Jan. 20 and saved everyone a lot of time: Harry Reid has just now figured out that Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, was never going to vote for health-care reform.

AIG tick-tock: Firedoglake, which has published valuable analysis on such issues as torture and the Scooter Libby case by means of creating documented timelines, applies the technique to the federal government’s bailout of AIG (and its use of AIG to indirectly bail out Goldman Sachs), working with a cache of e-mails obtained and posted online by The New York Times. FDL cautions that it ain’t complete, and I haven’t even begun reading it yet, but if you’re interested in the subject, this is sure to be a valuable resource.

Speaking of torture: The brother of the Crown Prince of the United Arab Emirates is caught on videotape torturing and attempting to murder a guy he thought had screwed him in a business deal, but the court let him off anyway after he claimed he was too whacked on medication to know what he was doing. I’ll just say he must have been pretty damn whacked to run over a guy repeatedly without actually quite managing to, you know, kill him.

SCOTUS vs. the U.S.: As I suggested on Monday, the Supreme Court isn’t going to sign off on anything that could be a basis for its having to allow itself to be televised someday. Jackasses. Go ahead and keep talking about how this court’s majority is so strict-constructionist and all, but speak up: I’m going to have trouble hearing you over my own laughter.

Allegany County, Maryland, needs more alligators: Andy says so, and he’s there so he should know.

The Internet — the greatest collection of knowledge in history: How can I make my chicken taste just like the junk they serve at school?

Rupert Murdoch: plagiarist.

Teddy Pendergrass: RIP.

Thought for the day

Filed under: I want my country back. — Lex @ 7:49 pm
Tags: ,

A strong society does not take its security policy directives from the least continent members of its populace.

UPDATE: But don’t take my word for it. Take theirs.

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