Monday, August 30, 2010

Last Call

Three words for you.  President.  John.  Bolton.
Asked if he gives any credit at all to the president for increasing drone attacks against terrorists in Pakistan and elsewhere, and tripling troop levels in Afghanistan – both moves that have upset his left flank – Bolton said they were moves the president was forced to take.
“Well, certainly he has done things that have been unexpected in Afghanistan and certain aspects of the War on Terrorism. I think those are steps he has taken because it has been impossible – even for him – to avoid taking them,” Bolton proffered. “For example, much of what he has done in terms of interrogation or Guantanamo Bay or aspects of the War on Terrorism are things that are driven either by the imperative of defending executive branch prerogatives under the Constitution or because he has come to realize that the Bush administration looked at a lot of alternatives and couldn’t find any. So it is not that he has done these things happily or willingly.”
Bolton has been unabashed in his view that military action will be necessary to stop Iranian nuclear proliferation. When asked whether he thinks that the president would ever order such strikes, Bolton said he couldn’t imagine it.
“I don’t see it. I just kind of think it is contrary to his ideological DNA. I’d love to be proven wrong and the future will tell. But I don’t see it,” he said.
One area Bolton has been particularly critical of the president’s foreign policy is in the president’s handling of the U.S-Israel relationship. He told TheDC that he thinks the president’s push for a peace process will not only not lead to peace, but will ultimately make an unstable region even more so.
Peace is war, and war is like peace, only with explosions and more awesome.  New tag :  John Bolton.
Walrus Man and Moose Lady in 2012!

Somehow I see all John Bolton tags automatically getting the Iran, Military Stupidity, Warren Terrah and Wingnut Stupidity tags as well.  Just a guess.

Score One For Science

Virginia's GOP Attorney General, Ken Cuccinelli, not only sued the government over "Obamacare" but also went after Penn State climatologist Dr. Michael Mann over his work at the University of Virginia, basically saying that since the official state position on climate change apparently is that it's a "fraud" and that at the time Dr. Mann was a state employee teaching at UVA, that the state was therefore entitled to sue him over a state grant, subpoenaing the records of Mann's tenure there.

Luckily a judge called Cuccinelli out and quashed the subpoena.

An Albemarle County Circuit Court judge has set aside a subpoena issued by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to the University of Virginia seeking documents related to the work of climate scientist and former university professor Michael Mann.

Judge Paul M. Peatross Jr. ruled that Cuccinelli can investigate whether fraud has occurred in university grants, as the attorney general had contended, but ruled that Cuccinelli's subpoena failed to state a "reason to believe" that Mann had committed fraud.

The ruling is a major blow for Cuccinelli, a global warming skeptic who had maintained that he was investigating whether Mann committed fraud in seeking government money for research that showed that the earth has experienced a rapid, recent warming. Mann, now at Penn State University, worked at U-Va. until 2005.

According to Peatross, the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act, under which the civil investigative demand was issued, requires that the attorney general include an "objective basis" to believe that fraud has been committed. Peatross indicates that the attorney general must state the reason so that it can be reviewed by a court, which Cuccinelli failed to do.

Peatross set the subpoena aside without prejudice, meaning Cuccinelli could give the subpoena another try by rewriting the civil demand to better explain the conduct he wishes to investigate. But the judge seemed skeptical of Cuccinelli's underlying claim about Mann, noting that Cuccinelli's deputy maintained in a court hearing that the nature of Mann's fraud was described in subsequent court papers in the case.

"The Court has read with care those pages and understands the controversy regarding Dr. Mann's work on the issue of global warming. However, it is not clear what he did was misleading, false or fraudulent in obtaining funds from the Commonwealth of Virginia," Peatross wrote
Yeah.  Oops indeed.  Maybe the AG should quit wasting taxpayer money as a state employee on frivolous lawsuits before, you know, somebody sues him for fraud.

The Amazing Vanishing Unemployment Rate

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Robert Barro, the macroeconomics version of Brett Favre.
To get a rough quantitative estimate of the implications for the unemployment rate, suppose that the expansion of unemployment-insurance coverage to 99 weeks had not occurred and—I assume—the share of long-term unemployment had equaled the peak value of 24.5% observed in July 1983. Then, if the number of unemployed 26 weeks or less in June 2010 had still equaled the observed value of 7.9 million, the total number of unemployed would have been 10.4 million rather than 14.6 million. If the labor force still equaled the observed value (153.7 million), the unemployment rate would have been 6.8% rather than 9.5%.

Consider how the prospects for Democrats in the November elections would look if the unemployment rate were now only 6.8%. Obviously, this change would make all the difference, and President Obama can reasonably blame his economic advisers. They should have protected their boss by standing firm and arguing that a reckless expansion of unemployment-insurance coverage to 99 weeks was unwise economically and politically. Congressman Boehner's advice to Mr. Obama seems correct, though possibly too late to matter.
Yeah, consider how better off Obama would be if he was claiming, right now, that the number of people on long-term unemployment never would have exceeded 24.5% and therefore the unemployment rate can't be higher than 7%.

In other words, all the folks currently between 26 and 99 weeks of unemployment would either A) vanish from the labor force and not be counted as unemployed making the unemployment rate 6.8% or B) magically would have found jobs from the Magic Employment Fairy.

No really, this is coming from a famous Harvard economist.  It's awesome.

Wait'll Krugman finds out.  It'll be like 300, only with aggregate demand.

The Real Lesson Of Park51

People outside America now know that America's Constitution doesn't mean jack when it comes to Muslims, and that the real bad guys are using our bigotry as a recruiting tool.
"By preventing this mosque from being built, America is doing us a big favor," Taliban operative Zabihullah tells NEWSWEEK. (Like many Afghans, he uses a single name.) "It's providing us with more recruits, donations, and popular support."
America's enemies in Afghanistan are delighted by the vehement public opposition to the proposed "Ground Zero mosque." The backlash against the project has drawn the heaviest e-mail response ever on jihadi Web sites, Zabihullah claims -- far bigger even than France's ban on burqas earlier this year. (That was big, he recalls: "We received many e-mails asking for advice on how Muslims should react to the hijab ban, and how they can punish France.") This time the target is America itself. "We are getting even more messages of support and solidarity on the mosque issue and questions about how to fight back against this outrage."
Zabihullah also claims that the issue is such a propaganda windfall -- so tailor-made to show how "anti-Islamic" America is -- that it now heads the list of talking points in Taliban meetings with fighters, villagers, and potential recruits. "We talk about how America tortures with waterboarding, about the cruel confinement of Muslims in wire cages in Guantanamo, about the killing of innocent women and children in air attacks -- and now America gives us another gift with its street protests to prevent a mosque from being built in New York," Zabihullah says. "Showing reality always makes the best propaganda."
Mission accomplished, 70% of America against the "Ground Zero Mosque."  Keep up the good work!

Bonus lesson on Park51 and the crazy month of August:
"There is no doubt that the election season has had a major impact upon the nature of the discourse," Abdul Rauf said in an interview with Abu Dhabi's The National newspaper.

The imam said the issue was "not between Muslims and non-Muslims, but between moderates of all the faith traditions and the radicals of all the faith traditions."
You got that right.

In AD 2012 Moose Was Beginning

All your Palin are belong to us.
Two days after Sarah Palin fired up a large crowd at Glenn Beck's Restoring Honor rally in Washington, a newly released survey suggests a clear majority of Americans don't think the former vice presidential nominee has the right credentials to be president.

According to the new survey from Vanity Fair and CBS News' 60 Minutes, only 1 in 4 of all adults thinks Palin is qualified to be commander-in-chief while 60 percent say she is not.

By a narrow 47-40 percent margin however, Republicans do feel Palin has the right stuff to be president. But self identified conservatives – constituting the segment of the GOP largely thought to most favor the former Alaska governor – are essentially split 41-40 percent on her abilities to govern the country.
Dear Republican primary voters in 2012:  feel free to nominate Sarah Palin for President.  Do everything in your power to make that happen.  Go for it.

Please.  (For great justice.)

Because I really can't think of any better way to assure America four more years of Obama.

A Tax Credit Where Credit Is Due

Another homebuyer tax credit, that is.  Could the Obama administration throw an even larger tax credit our way, and this time for all Americans to benefit from, in order to be the defibrillator to the cardiac arrest the housing market is in?
HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, appearing on CNN's State of the Union this weekend, didn't rule out another tax credit. He did say it's "too early to say," but then added that "we're going to be focused like a laser on where the housing market is moving going forward, and we are going to go everywhere we can to make sure this market stabilizes and recovers."

After that several Congressional candidates in Florida threw their voices behind the possibility, and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist then chimed in on the same show, saying that another tax credit, "would stimulate the economy. It would increase home sales in Florida." He finished with: "I would absolutely encourage the president to support that because it would certainly help my fellow Floridians."
Or should we let the patient go under and liquidate what's left?  Hmm, there's that argument again:  stimulation versus liquidation.  Funny how it's always big business on the side of liquidation and letting the chips fall where they will...

Austerity Hysteria, Meet Liquidation Nation

Add mega-billionaire Jim Rogers to the list of folks who say -- surprise! -- the US needs European austerity measures now!
"I'd rather have the Europeans running the U.S. central bank than the people running the U.S. central bank, least they know how to try to build for the future," Rogers told CNBC Monday.
“In America, Bernanke just says we'll print more money, we'll spend more money, even though the United States is now the largest debtor nation in the history of the world."
Rogers reiterated that economies in trouble should be allowed to go under, like bad companies.
"The things that have worked in the past... will be you go bankrupt then you re-organize and you start over. You have a painful period for awhile, and then you start over. This has been done in the past 3 or 4 thousand years, and that's the way you do it," said Rogers.
"Trying to push the problem out to the future, and printing money, we just had another example here in the U.S., it didn't work and it's not going to work."
Rogers said that with central banks "flooding the world with money", the only place to invest right now is in real assets, whether it's in "silver, or rice or natural gas".
"Paper money is not going to do it for you," he added.
Lemme translate for you.

Who benefits if the US economy is forced to sell off real assets like failed, bankrupt businesses at fire-sale prices?

Who benefits if there's a rush from cash to commodities like "silver, or rice or natural gas"?

Who benefits if the major problem becomes a serious lack of liquidity and having the bulk of your real wealth tied up in, say, your mortgage?

Why, that would be the guys with heavy investments in commodities and lots of liquidity to spare because they are a billionaire investment guru, like, oh I dunno, this Jim Rogers fellow.

Just sayin'.

Exciting New Horizons In Obama Derangement Syndrome

It's an oldie but goodie that proves everything old is new again:  Obama is a "Muslim" has always been a euphemism for Obama is something else...not M as in Muslim but N as in...well, you know.  Steve Benen:
President Obama sat down with NBC's Brian Williams yesterday, covering a fair amount of ground over the course of 22 minutes. Before I saw the interview, I saw a headline: "Obama blasts lies, disinformation." That's sort of true, but it's not quite how I'd characterize the discussion.

After talking at some length about the problems afflicting the Gulf Coast in general and Louisiana in particular, Williams noted public opinion polls showing significant numbers of Americans questioning the president's faith and birthplace. Obama more or less just shrugged off the nonsense. "The facts are the facts," he said, adding, "I'm not going to be worrying too much about whatever rumors are floating on out there. If I spend all my time chasing after that, then I wouldn't get much done.... I can't spend all my time with my birth certificate plastered on my forehead."

The president, in other words, treated this is a silly, trivial distraction, which it is.
Unfortunately, both Benen and Obama are going about this the wrong way.  Candidate Obama fought this kind of misinformation and was brutally effective.  President Obama on the other hand is remaining above the fray, and as E.J. Dionne rightly points out, that's leaving a vacuum for the Wingers to fill with misinformation and it is indicative of a much larger issue.
He and his party are often defensive when it comes to saying what they really believe: that government, well-executed, is a positive good; that too much economic inequality is both dysfunctional and unjust; that capitalism has never worked without regulation and a strong dose of social insurance. They no longer dare talk about public enterprise, a phrase my friend Chris Matthews reminded me of recently, visible in our great state universities, our best public schools, our road and transit systems, and in the research and development that government finances in areas where there is no immediate profit to be made.
The Obama press office, I know, can send me speeches in which he has made some of these points. But the president's efforts to lay down a consistent rationale, argument and philosophy have been sporadic. He has created a vacuum, filled by the wild charges of Glenn Beck, the disappointment of progressives who emphasize what he hasn't done and the tired "government is always the problem" rhetoric of his mainstream conservative opponents. He has thus left himself and his Democratic allies with weak defenses against a tide of economic melancholy.
It is too late to turn the midterm election into a triumph for the administration but not too late to salvage his party's congressional majorities. Given dismal Democratic expectations, that would now be rated as a victory. But doing so will require Obama to think anew about what "politicking" really means, to pick more than tactical fights with his adversaries, and to lay out, without equivocation or apology, where he is trying to move the country. It's just too bad he didn't start earlier. 
I miss Candidate Obama.  He was a hell of a fighter.  President Obama is too busy remaining above the fray and dismissing this Muslim euphemism as something not worth paying attention to.  All that does of course is allow the misinformation to fester allowing the wingers to go to the next step on this unopposed: the false notion and projection fantasy that Obama is dismissing large swaths of Americans as irrelevant as well.

This President's keeping his hands clean.  He really does have bigger problems to worry about...much, much bigger ones.  The problem is this small wound, allowed to fester, can be just as fatal to his presidency.

The Criminalization of Adolescence

Mistermix on inducting America's teenagers into the Bush-Obama surveillance state:
While children are learning to tolerate more surveillance, I don’t think that our current society is set up for kids to be completely dutiful. The drinking age is now 21 everywhere, smoking pot is still more-or-less illegal, and the downloading of media (music or movies) can come with bigger fines than smoking a joint. Teenagers still engage in all of these activities, and in order to do so, they’re sneaking around. There may be more surveillance, but the need to evade it is as strong as ever, and I have faith that the desire to smoke a joint, drink a beer or download a pirated movie will trump whatever indoctrination occurs in the schools.

Just to be clear: I think the increasing criminalization of adolescence is outrageous – I’m just observing how things are, not how I wish they were.
Teenagers going to methods of communication outside phone calls these days -- and putting a premium on privacy in those communications -- is pretty normal.  Unfortunately we're treating kids like potential terrorists for their efforts.

The increasing use of student surveillance and intrusion of school districts into students’ extra-curricular conduct should alarm us all.   Whether it is a district surveilling students in their bedrooms via webcam, conducting random drug or locker searches, strip-searching students, lowering the standard for searching students to “reasonable suspicion” from “probable cause,” disciplining students for conduct outside of school hours, searching their cellphones and text messages, or allegedly forcing them to undergo pregnancy testing, student privacy is under increasing threat.

The other day I mentioned a Connecticut school district that wanted to require students to carry an ID card with an RFID chip so that they could track their location. The surveillance capability included locating the student if they were off school premises and in town. Today, I came across another news story from earlier this month that also involves tracking students. KTVU in California reported that the Contra Costa County School District began introducing a tracking system for preschool students that would alert staff when a student leaves school premises. In order to accomplish that, students will reportedly be required to wear a jersey that contains the RFID tag that uses Wi-Fi to send signals to sensors located throughout the school.
Yes, this is going on in America's schools today, now.  Anyone born after, say, Bill Clinton took office has basically always lived in a world with no expectation of privacy and always been under watch by someone electronically because of 9/11.

They expect it now.  That's how the world works because to them that's how it always has been.

The Real Redistributionists

I often hear Obama called a "redistributionist", someone who takes money away from hard-working Americans through taxes and gives it to the undeserving.  Obama is coming for the sweat of your brow, they say, he's coming for the fruits of your work to fund his massive welfare state and to entrap America as slaves to government.

The funny part is that the people who scream this the loudest have been redistributing wealth from the middle class to the themselves... for decades now.  Jim Quinn:
The parallels between the period leading up to the Great Depression and our current situation leading to a Greater Depression are revealing. When you examine the facts without looking through the prism of party politics it becomes clear that when the wealth and power of the country are overly concentrated in the clutches of the top 1% wealthiest Americans, financial collapse and depression follow. This concentration of income and wealth did not cause the Stock Market Crash of 1929 or the financial system implosion in 2008, but they were a symptom of a sick system of warped incentives. The top 1% of income earners were raking in 24% of all the income in America in 1928. After World War II until 1980, the top 1% of income earners consistently took home between 9% and 11% of all income in the country. During the 1950′s and 1960′s when Americans made tremendous strides in their standard of living, the top 1% were earning 10% of all income. A hard working high school graduate could rise into the middle class, owning a home and a car.

From 1980 onward, the top 1% wealthiest Americans have progressively taken home a greater and greater percentage of all income. It peaked at 22% in 1999 at the height of the internet scam. Wall Street peddled IPOs of worthless companies to delusional investors and siphoned off billions in fees and profits. The rich cut back on their embezzling of our national wealth for a year and then resumed despoiling our economic system by taking advantage of the Federal Reserve created housing boom. By 2007, the top 1% again was taking home 24% of the national income, just as they did in 1928. When the wealth of the country is captured by a small group of ruling elite through fraudulent means, collapse and crisis becomes imminent. We have experienced the collapse, while the crisis deepens.
And now, once again we are in a depression.  The money's already been taken from you, not by government but by the people at the top seeing massive wealth growth while 90% of Americans have seen their real income fall since 1990.

The American middle class was dying long before Obama ever entered national politics.

Taking A Swing At It

As President Obama prepares to host Mideast peace negotiations later this week in Washington, a Kuwaiti newspaper is reporting that an Israeli attack on Hezbollah targets in Syria is imminent.
Israel is planning to attack Hezbollah arms depots and weapons manufacturing plants in Syria, the Kuwaiti newspaper Al Rai reported on Saturday.
The report is based on Western sources who asserted that Israel has increased its military force level along the northern border in the Golan Heights and Mount Dov areas.
The report cited European sources who claimed that recent Israeli unmanned aerial drone flights over Lebanon and Syria signal Israel's intentions to carry out operations in the area. 
According to the report, Israel plans to attack Hezbollah weapons depots, including ones deep inside Syria that store long-range rockets.
The Al Rai report said that the situation on the Israel-Syria border is tense and that Syria could respond immediately to any Israeli attack and not demonstrate the restraint that it did after the Israeli Air Force bombed a suspected nuclear reactor in Syria in the fall of 2007.
According to the report, Syria's military is on high alert and is strengthening its anti-aircraft defenses along the border with Israel and at strategic sites within Syria. 
Needless to say, an Israeli attack on Syria right now would definitely complicate things in this week's peace talks. It could very well be complete hogwash too meant to scuttle the talks before they start, but certainly US intel would be able to determine any Israeli troop buildup and would be able to corroborate these drone flight reports.

Still, we'll see how this shakes out.


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