Monday, December 29, 2008

The Vulgarization of the Republican Party

Who is this bigot Chip Saltman who sent a racist message to the Republican National Committee, entitled 'Barack the Magic Negro'? If he's the best the Republicans have, then they deserve the oblivion they seem to be consigning themselves to.

Here's what Peter Yarrow, the co-writer of the song 'Puff the Magic Dragon', from which they pirated their vulgar message, thinks:

The sending of a Christmas greeting by Chip Saltsman to the members of the Republican National Committee that includes a recording of the so-called parody, "Barack the Magic Negro" is not only offensive, it is shocking and saddening in the extreme. It flies in the face of America's deeply held hope for a new era in which common ground and mutual respect characterize the exchanges between our national leaders.

I and my co-writer of "Puff," Lenny Lipton, have been eagerly awaiting an end to the mean-spiritedness, outright disrespect and bigotry that was commonplace prior to this last presidential election. What might have been wearily accepted as "the way it was" in the campaign, is now unacceptable. Obama is not a candidate. He is the President-Elect, and this song insults the office of the Presidency, the people who voted for him, as well as those who did not -- and taking a children's song and twisting it in such vulgar, mean-spirited way, is a slur to our entire country and our common agreement to move beyond racism.

Another source says that the song was first 'sung' on Rush Limbaugh's show. Surprise, surprise!!

According to Burro Chip Saltsman, "I think most people recognize political satire when they see it." Actually, and more importantly, most people recognize insensitive bigotry when they see and hear it.

Given our history of slavery and racial discrimination, this incident has transgressed the boundaries of acceptibility. There is no law against their saying it, but we don't have to accept them within the civil political dialogue either. They are to me as the descendents of the KKK. If they don't see this, then to hell with them.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Bad Investment?

I posted sometime ago about the looming bubble in higher education, and how many small, libera-arts colleges could find themselves bankrupt in the near future. Time will tell, of course, and it depends on whether the federal government is going to plow billions of dollars in saving higher education. But here is an article I found on this issue.

Government figures show that of students who entered four-year colleges in 1997, just 54% had earned a degree six years later. A professor wrote about this issue in The Atlantic earlier this year, arguing that it’s immoral to tell all students they can go to college, then crush their dreams by failing half of them. But the problem has deeper effects than hurt feelings: the 54% graduation rate means that around 46% of all money used to finance college tuition results in no degree. Which means that financially speaking, the spectacularly high dropout rate boils down to a spectacularly bad investment.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Musical Interlude: Earth, Wind, and Fire

For those of you going out to party tonight, here's a tune to get you going! Let's Groove!

Happy Birthday, Dear Newton

But before I go, let me draw your attention to an article by Olivia Judson, a science writer for the NYT (and the sister of my niece Amanda's boyfriend Nicholas). She tells us that Dec. 25 is also the birthday of Isaac Newton, perhaps the greatest scientist/thinker ever. And she gives us this jingle to sing this week:

On the tenth day of Newton, My true love gave to me, Ten drops of genius, Nine silver
coins, Eight circling planets, Seven shades of liight, Six counterfeiters, Cal-Cu-Lus! Four telescopes, Three Laws of Motion, Two awful feuds, And the discovery of gravity!

So we lift a cup of cheer to the great Newton!!

Ps. I once preached a sermon where I compared Newton (the scientific genius) to apostle Paul (the spiritual genius) and I was going to link you to it, but I'll be doggone if I can find it. When I do find it, I'll let you know. Until then, here's another sermon that I now dedicate to the great Christian Isaac Newton, on the false choice that some thinkers pose between scientific and religious faith (you can actually have both!).

Off to Pennsylvania

We're off to visit family in the north, so please say a prayer for us as we travel today and tomorrow. I'll be able to continue blogging occasionally through this next week. So we'll be in touch.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Returns to Russia

From the vast steppes of Russia comes this 'good news' on Christmas:

By the time of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, there were nearly 600 newspapers and magazines throughout Russia devoted to Orthodox subjects. They were all shut down by the Soviet regime by 1918.

Today, in a country that was officially atheist about two decades ago, there are again hundreds of newspapers, magazines and newsletters covering the world’s largest Orthodox church. There are about 3,500 Russian Orthodox Web sites, and some priests are even blogging.

The Russian Orthodox media, like the church itself, have not always fallen into step with the Kremlin line. The Moscow Patriarchate, its official newspaper and most Orthodox media have addressed the war with Georgia over the breakaway region of South Ossetia as a tragic misunderstanding between two countries that share an Orthodox Christian heritage.

After 70 years of state-imposed atheism and 20 years that have run the gamut from glasnost to post-Soviet chaos to a revival of Russian pride, Russians have increasingly embraced their Orthodox roots.

From a conservative political perspective, it is always good to have a non-governmental locus of power and independent opinion in a country like Russia, let alone one that stresses the Christian themes of love, peace, and justice. That is genuinely new and good. Thanks be to God.

The Vast Santa Conspiracy

How far will the top echelons of our elite go to fool our innocent children into believing in a gift-giving lumberjack who flies?

Just how deep does this conspiracy go?

On the local Denver news they just showed us the "NORAD Santa Tracker". Using the government's top spy technology, they have determined that "Santa" is apparently somewhere over Winnipeg right now.

Yes, my friends, even NORAD is in on this conspiracy.

Can one doubt that Cheney must somehow be mixed up in this?

Merry Christmas!!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Musical Interlude: Michael Card 2

In honor of the new-born King, a beautiful song for Christmas Eve by Michael Card: Joy in the Journey.



G.M. Is Us

Thomas Friedman of the NYT has a vision of what the U.S. is, and what it could be.

For all these reasons, our present crisis is not just a financial meltdown crying out for a cash injection. We are in much deeper trouble. In fact, we as a country have become General Motors — as a result of our national drift. Look in the mirror: G.M. is us.

That’s why we don’t just need a bailout. We need a reboot. We need a build out. We need a buildup. We need a national makeover. That is why the next few months are among the most important in U.S. history. Because of the financial crisis, Barack Obama has the bipartisan support to spend $1 trillion in stimulus. But we must make certain that every bailout dollar, which we’re borrowing from our kids’ future, is spent wisely.

It has to go into training teachers, educating scientists and engineers, paying for research and building the most productivity-enhancing infrastructure — without building white elephants. Generally, I’d like to see fewer government dollars shoveled out and more creative tax incentives to stimulate the private sector to catalyze new industries and new markets. If we allow this money to be spent on pork, it will be the end of us.

I have an idea: let Friedman read this column at the Inauguration, as the 'Inaugural Prophet.'

Fading Star

A new poll yesterday showed Caroline Kennedy with 33% support, while Andrew Cuomo has 29% support. As himself a certain dynast as well as a practicing politician (State Attorney General), the momentum may be shifting in Cuomo's favor. Or someone else we don't know about. Caroline Kennedy's star seems to be fading.

Straight To Hell

Read about how Jews are dealing with betrayal by one of their own, here. Bottom line: Bernard Madoff is definitely going straight to hell.

The Ubiquity of Deceit

Is deception a common or uncommon behavior? A NYT science reporter discusses this question from the standpoint of zoology.

Madoff Is Us

Gary North, one of the prophets who was forecasting years ago what is happening to us economically , has a fascinating article on the issue of societal trust here. I don't always buy all of what he says, but he does have good insights sometimes.

Monday, December 22, 2008

I'm Feeling What Kunstler's Feeling

From James Kunstler's weekly memo:

Zounds! Public sentiment toward the accelerating economic fiasco has shifted, seemingly overnight, from a mood of nauseated amazement to one of panicked grievance as the United States moves closer to an apparent comprehensive collapse -- and so ill-timed, wouldn't you know it, to coincide with the annual rigors of Santa Claus. The tipping point seems to be the Bernie Madoff $50 billion Ponzi scandal, which represents the grossest failure of authority and hence legitimacy in finance to date in as much as Mr. Madoff was a former chairman of the NASDAQ, for godsake. It's like discovering that Ben Bernanke is running a meth lab inside the Federal Reserve. And out in the heartland, of course, there is the spectacle of Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich trying to desperately dodge a racketeering rap behind an implausible hairdo.

What seems to spook people now is the possibility that everybody in charge of everything is a fraud or a crook. Legitimacy has left the system. Not even the the legions of Obama are immune as his reliance on Wall Street capos Robert Rubin, Tim Geithner, and Larry Summers seem tainted by the same reckless thinking that brought on the fiasco. His pick last week for chief of the SEC, Mary Shapiro, is already being dissed as a shill for the Big Bank status quo. In a few days we'll discover what kind of bonuses are being ladled out by the remaining Wall Street banks with TARP money and a new chorus of howls will ring out.

This is very dangerous territory.

Reboot

I have an idea. Everyone owns up to their role in the recent economic disaster, then we'll all agree to STOP MAKING THE SAME STUPID MISTAKES OVER AND OVER AGAIN.

Okay? Ready, set....

Nincompoops

Frank Rich writes:

Last week ABC News asked 16 of the banks that have received handouts from the Treasury Department’s $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program the same two direct questions: How have you used that money, and how much have you spent on bonuses this year? Most refused to answer.

Congress can’t get the answers either. Its oversight panel declared in a first report this month that the Treasury is doling out billions “without seeking to monitor the use of funds provided to specific financial institutions.” The Treasury prefers instead to look at “general metrics” indicating the program’s overall effect on the economy. Well, we know what the “general metrics” tell us already: the effect so far is nil. Perhaps if we were let in on the specifics, we’d start to understand why.

In its own independent attempt to penetrate the bailout, the Government Accountability Office learned that “the standard agreement between Treasury and the participating institutions does not require that these institutions track or report how they plan to use, or do use, their capital investments.” Executives at all but two of the bailed-out banks told the G.A.O. that the “money is fungible,” so they “did not intend to track or report” specifically what happens to the taxpayers’ cash.

Nor is there any serious accounting for executive pay at these seminationalized companies. As Amit Paley of The Washington Post reported, a last-minute, one-sentence loophole added by the Bush administration to the original bailout bill gutted the already minimal restrictions on executive compensation. And so when Goldman Sachs, Henry Paulson’s Wall Street alma mater, says that it is not using public money to pay executives, we must take it on faith.

Questions: doesn't this sound exactly like the behavior that got us into this mess in the first place? Why did Congress, including Barack Obama, agree to such a completely incompetent, unaccountable use of public money?

All I can say is: what the hell is going on? If I ran my church finances this way, or even gave away our Christian Aid Fund for the poor this way, I should be brought up on charges of incompetence.

I'm beginning to think that the Republican Senators who opposed the bailout might have been right.

How Dare He.......

Watching MSNBC this morning, I was struck by how angry the media is at Obama.....for not being interesting. No scandals. No stumbling over words or saying strange things (at least since the Nancy Reagan/seance gaffe). Its so boring, what are we to do!

"The whole thing might have ended in snores if McCormick hadn't piped up about Blagojevich." Ah, saved! (The Daily Howler, which I link to here, is the best media critique out there.)

They want SO BADLY to squeeze something out of the Blagojevich/Emmanuel conversations. I saw Michelle Norris of NPR on Meet the Press and she basically said, "well, Obama hasn't done anything wrong, everything he said has been accurate, BUT, you know, some people have misunderstood what he has said, which is of course Obama's fault and not the fault of the press or the idiots who misunderstood." These people make me sick sometimes.

I mean, think about the consequences: the press might have to cover actual news and, you know, issues that have something to do with Great Depression 2.0, rather than their normal court-intrigue and scandal crap! One shutters at the thought of how boring that would be.

Dignified Old Hypocrite

Christopher Hitchens complains about Obama's choice of Rick Warren to give an inaugural prayer and then suggests this:

But if we must have an officiating priest, let it be some dignified old hypocrite with no factional allegiance and not a tree-shaking huckster and publicity seeker who believes that millions of his fellow citizens are hellbound because they do not meet his own low and vulgar standards.

Is he talking about me? If so, I accept.

And He Looked Like Such A Kind Man....

Bernie Madoff's alleged Ponzi scheme hoodwinked tens of billions of dollars from deep-pocketed banks and hedge funds - but the 70-year-old Wall Street icon appears to have saved his most vicious losses for his closest friends.

For example, Madoff convinced one decades-long friend, a 60-something woman whose husband recently died, to hand over her entire life savings for safe keeping as his alleged fraud was unraveling - just weeks before his arrest, The Post has learned.

"She called Madoff because she didn't know what to do with her finances and he told her 'Don't worry, I'll handle everything' and then he took all her money," said a mutual friend of the two, who is disgusted at Madoff's behavior and the havoc it is wrecking in his Boca Raton-area community.

"Bernie knew her for decades, they golfed together at the Boca Rio Country Club and now she has lost everything," said the friend, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Sad

Meanwhile, the FBI admitted that the Madoff scandal had grown so large that it was forced to shift agents from counterterrorism operations to the alleged swindler's case, among other Wall Street scandals.

Famous Last Words

In a must-read NYT article that has infuriated the White House, the Republicans' role in the funny money economy of the last decade and the explosion of bad mortgages is analysed:

For much of the Bush presidency, the White House was preoccupied by terrorism and war; on the economic front, its pressing concerns were cutting taxes and privatizing Social Security. The housing market was a bright spot: ever-rising home values kept the economy humming, as owners drew down on their equity to buy consumer goods and pack their children off to college.

Lawrence B. Lindsey, Mr. Bush’s first chief economics adviser, said there was little impetus to raise alarms about the proliferation of easy credit that was helping Mr. Bush meet housing goals. “No one wanted to stop that bubble,” Mr. Lindsey said. “It would have conflicted with the president’s own policies.”


"No one wanted to stop that bubble...." Famous last words.

If this article is accurate, George Bush did as much or more to increase low-income mortgage lending than the Democrats in Congress, contrary to what many McCain supporters were alleging in the campaign this year.

Concerned that down payments were a barrier, Mr. Bush persuaded Congress to spend up to $200 million a year to help first-time buyers with down payments and closing costs. And he pushed to allow first-time buyers to qualify for federally insured mortgages with no money down. Republican Congressional leaders and some housing advocates balked, arguing that homeowners with no stake in their investments would be more prone to walk away, as Mr. West did. Many economic experts, including some in the White House, now share that view.

The president also leaned on mortgage brokers and lenders to devise their own innovations. “Corporate America,” he said, “has a responsibility to work to make America a compassionate place.” And corporate America, eyeing a lucrative market, delivered in ways Mr. Bush might not have expected, with a proliferation of too-good-to-be-true teaser rates and interest-only loans that were sold to investors in a loosely regulated environment.

“This administration made decisions that allowed the free market to operate as a barroom brawl instead of a prize fight,” said L. William Seidman, who advised Republican presidents and led the savings and loan bailout in the 1990s. “To make the market work well, you have to have a lot of rules.” But Mr. Bush populated the financial system’s alphabet soup of oversight agencies with people who, like him, wanted fewer rules, not more.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Musical Interlude: Chicago

An oldie goldie from one of my favorite groups from college.


Gay Marriage?

I agree with everything in the previous post, written by The Caretaker, except for one thing. I'm not sure that the term 'marriage' can or should be applied to non-heterosexual partnerships. It seems to me that American society is fundamentally conservative on this issue, as measured by the fact that Connecticut and Massachusetts are the only states that currently recognize gay marriage. Indeed, many advanced industrial nations around the world do not recognize gay unions as 'marriages.'

I do support the idea of civil unions or domestic partnerships for gay/lesbian couples who wish to establish a long-term relationship, with many if not all of the legal rights of married couples. But whether the term 'marriage' should be reserved for hetersexual union is still an open one with me.

Friday, December 19, 2008

all hands on deck.

Over the last two days, I have spent a lot of time arguing in the comments sections on liberal blogs about Rick Warren giving the inaugural invocation. There are a lot of angry people out there, and I don't blame them since I agree with them them that marriage is a fundamental human right for all people, including gays and lesbians.

Regardless, I am in favor of the Rick Warren pick, given his work on economic and environmental issues.

It boils down to this: we are in an all-hands-on-deck situation regarding energy and the environoment. Scientists are seeing the icecaps melt faster than they feared possible. The onset of peak oil has led to wild price gyrations in the price of gas and played a larger than acknowledged role in the financial collapse. We need to get started solving this problem NOW, actually 10 years before now. I honestly get a little more freaked out everyday about the consequences of what we face.

If the show of unity between Rick Warren and Barack Obama can be the start of a partnership between green evangelicals and environomentalists, I am all for it. All Americans--liberals and conservatives--are going to have to put the social issues on the back burner for a little while and get to work on the important stuff. Human rights won't mean much if civilization itself takes a hit.

Madoff Cloned

Nobel Laureate Economist Paul Krugman makes the case that what the Wall Street financial sector did in general over the last few decades is not all that different from what Mr. Madoff did:

The financial services industry has claimed an ever-growing share of the nation’s income over the past generation, making the people who run the industry incredibly rich. Yet, at this point, it looks as if much of the industry has been destroying value, not creating it. And it’s not just a matter of money: the vast riches achieved by those who managed other people’s money have had a corrupting effect on our society as a whole.

Let’s start with those paychecks. Last year, the average salary of employees in “securities, commodity contracts, and investments” was more than four times the average salary in the rest of the economy. Earning a million dollars was nothing special, and even incomes of $20 million or more were fairly common. The incomes of the richest Americans have exploded over the past generation, even as wages of ordinary workers have stagnated; high pay on Wall Street was a major cause of that divergence.

But surely those financial superstars must have been earning their millions, right? No, not necessarily. The pay system on Wall Street lavishly rewards the appearance of profit, even if that appearance later turns out to have been an illusion.

Consider the hypothetical example of a money manager who leverages up his clients’ money with lots of debt, then invests the bulked-up total in high-yielding but risky assets, such as dubious mortgage-backed securities. For a while — say, as long as a housing bubble continues to inflate — he (it’s almost always a he) will make big profits and receive big bonuses. Then, when the bubble bursts and his investments turn into toxic waste, his investors will lose big — but he’ll keep those bonuses.

Please read the whole column, for it expresses the sad truth about our easy-money economy that is now collapsing. And then weep.

Investing Well

If you are looking for good investment advice, you might want to check out this interview with John Bogle, founder of the Vanguard Fund, on the Diane Rehm show this week. This is an audio interview about an hour long, but I think it is well worth it.

Rick Warren and the Inauguration

President-elect Obama's decision to ask Rick Warren to give the opening prayer at the Inauguration has created a firestorm on the left, particularly from the gay and lesbian community. I have to say that at first I was taken aback myself, given that I'm somewhat tired of the evangelical right being given this honor and privilege so frequently (think Billy and Franklin Graham), while the mainline traditional churches are so often passed over.

Be that as it may, I think the bottom line for me is that while some may see this as Obama giving Rick Warren his blessing, I think the greater reality is that Rick Warren is giving Obama and his administration his endorsement and blessing.

This seems to me to be Obama's effort to avoid a renewed culture war, a war which has been so political destructive in America over the last three decades. It may well be worth this concession. It certainly is in line with Obama's overall effort to bring unity to the vital center of American politics.

What gay and lesbians need to realize is that the issue of homosexual marriage remains very much a hot-button issue among middle America, one that is capable of restarting the culture war. Time is probably on their side, given the more liberal views of the younger generations, but 2009 may not yet be a 1964 for the gay movement.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Gift Idea

A gift idea for the man who has everything:

Burger King has released a limited-edition men's body spray that evokes the smell of freshly broiled Whoppers ... According to a press release, "The King is setting hearts ablaze for the holidays with his new scent of choice. FLAME™, a new men's body spray by Burger King Corp., features the scent of seduction with the hint of flame-broiled meat.

This Is Not A Vulgar Joke


Found in the New Republic:


Your eyes do not deceive: Yes, that’s a figurine of the 44th president of the United States doing what is normally done in private. Witness the caganer, or "shitter" in Catalan.

A raunchy send-up? Not to Catalans. The original caganer, which goes back at least as far as the 16th century, memorialized the humble Catalan peasant giving back to the soil what it was good enough to give him. Exactly when or why is not clear, but this celebration of fertility eventually became linked to the celebration of the birth of Jesus. A Catalan Christmas, therefore, involves creating Nativity scenes at home, but along with the usual sheperds and Magi, there is always a caganer hidden somewhere outside the manger.


"The Obama caganer represents the Catalan hope that his efforts are fruitful, much as the original peasant version expressed the same hopes for the soil," says Anna Maria Pla, whose family--the Alós-Pla--has been making caganers since 1992. A record-high 1,300 of Obama’s caganers have sold in one month, and Pla hopes to sell another 700 before the holiday is over, twice the total for the President Bush version, even though that one’s been on the market for several years.

America's Desire for Dynasty

Kathleen Parker, who has gained a certain notoriety as the conservative critic of Sarah Palin, makes sense again in her discussion of the merits of Caroline Kennedy for Hillary Clinton's senate seat. Here's a taste:

We don't do birthright in this country -- except when we do. John Quincy Adams and George W. Bush come to mind. We don't elect people on the basis of a recognizable name -- except when we do. Who, after all, was Hillary Clinton other than the wife of a governor and president before being elected to the U.S. Senate from a state where she established a token residency?

Even so, Clinton has proved herself in the Senate, winning friends and grudging respect across the aisle. She performed admirably as a presidential candidate, despite her murky memories about being under sniper attack in Bosnia.

To the point: She became a senator by being a senator. She became a national figure by being one.

Musical Interlude: Crosby, Stills, and Nash

With all the discussion of education and moral behavior, I can't think of a better song for this interlude than 'Teach Your Children'.

Head in the Sand

From the WaPO:

The nation's chief securities regulator [Chris Cox] said yesterday it was "deeply troubling" that his agency had failed to catch perhaps the largest Ponzi scheme in history despite "credible and specific allegations . . . repeatedly brought to the attention of SEC staff" regarding the activities of Bernard L. Madoff.

Cox offered the beginnings of answers. He said the agency inappropriately discounted allegations, that staff did not relay concerns to the agency's leadership and that examiners relied on documents volunteered by Madoff rather than seeking subpoenas to obtain critical information. And Cox said the agency's inspector general would investigate whether personal relationships between Madoff's family and SEC staff played a role in the failed oversight.

It seems no one was paying attention in the era of easy-money.

We need effective, honest 'cops'. If the cops are corrupt, then criminals (who will always be with us) will have a field day.

Scientific Change

One of the great things about modern science is its willingness to consider new evidence and change its thinking accordingly. Evidence is now accumulating that it wasn't a meteor but rather volcanoes that might have done in the dinosaurs.

Accepted theory holds that the dinosaurs became extinct after a large asteroid crashed into Earth, rending the environment uninhabitable. However, that theory is facing a serious challenge as evidence mounts that it may have been massive volcanic eruptions in India that ended the species: huge volcanic eruptions that belched sulfur into the air for around 10,000 years could have killed the dinosaurs, according to new evidence unearthed by geologists.

Evidence is accumulating that it wasn't an asteroid that did the beasts in, but volcanoes -- the first real challenge the extinction theory has met in three decades.


A combination of studies on dinosaur fossils, magnetic signatures in rocks and the timing of the disappearance of different species suggest it was volcanoes, not an asteroid, that caused the dinosaurs' extinction.

"We're discovering ... amazingly large flows, amazingly short time scales and amazing volcanic (eruptions)," said Vincent Courtillot of the University of Paris, who is is presenting new evidence for the volcano theory this week at the American Geophysical Union conference here.

Schools

Barack and Michelle Obama have decided to send their daughters to the Sidwell Friends School, an historic private school in the District of Columbia, started in 1883 by the Quakers. It provides a high-quality high school education and also has the kind of principles and values that the Obamas support.

I believe that private education has always been an integral part of our educational system in America. As long as private and religious schools make sure that they are serving the less affluent sectors of our society by providing scholarship help for worthy, less affluent students, then they are serving the broader goals of our society and should play an important role in the United States, without criticism from the left. Not everyone has to go to a public, state-supported school (my kids did, by the way).

Educational Reform

Obama has selected Arne Duncan to be his education secretary. I never heard of him before, but his general reputation is as an effective, non-ideological education reformer, who has most recently been heading up the Chicago school system.

Each pick Obama makes for his cabinet makes clearer his centrist, pragmatic, non-ideological orientation. This is, again, one of the reasons I really liked him from the first. He has clear, worthy goals, but he is willing to look around for the best means to achieve those goals. He is not wedded to the ideologies of 'left' or 'right', but is a part of what has been called 'the vital center.' This includes openness to the diversity of educational institutions, including public, private, charter, religous, etc, which is of course a hallmark of the American way of education from the very outset of our history as a nation.

Not only is this approach more likely to achieve the goals, but it is also more likely to create a political coalition in the center of the American political spectrum that will provide the political support he will need.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Monday, December 15, 2008

Bush, you done alright!

In the "credit where credit is due" department, I've got to give Bush credit for his response to the Iraqi shoe thrower (if we could only convince other radicals to adopt similar armaments).

In a nutshell, Bush very calmly said that he wasn't threatened by the shoe throwing, and that in a free society some people will take their dissent to levels beyond what one might want at times. And he gave the thrower props for bringing attention to his cause, whatever it was.

Good on ya, Bushie!

Dissent to Kunstler's Dissent

One can hardly avoid agreeing with Kunstler's conclusion that the U.S. automakers are doomed one way or another. That is, their current business model is doomed--SUVs will never sell at a profitable level again.

But there is a difference between an "orderly" and a "disorderly" "unwinding", as economists would put it, of the idiotic investments our country has made. In order to allow an orderly unwinding at this critical juncture, we have to bailout the auto companies so that they may have at least a chance to morph into something more sustainable.

If a "disorderly" unwinding sounds maybe not so bad to you, consider that economists, in their bloodless way, would call World War II a "disorderly unwinding" of the Great Depression. Order, it turns out, is a very precious and fragile thing.

Musical Interlude: Bob Marley

My Email to Andrew Sullivan

Lets see if he posts it.

Title: Message from a Neither Greedy nor Stupid Person: Please Bailout the Stupid and the Greedy for My Sake!

Andrew, earlier today you made the case that the "greedy and stupid" must pay the price of foreclosure and bankruptcy in order for the country to avoid a repeat performance of the obscene risk-taking and outright gambling that characterized the last decade. On grounds of morality and justice, I agree with you completely. However, as a matter of self-interest, even as a non-greedy and stupid person, I must beg of you (well, really the government): please don't let the idiots drag down the rest of us!

I am 28 years old, have never bought a house (could never afford it during the the boom and could never qualify for a loan in the bust without a 20% down payment), never owned stocks (just recently got a decent job), and have large student loans, a car payment, and some credit card debt. I this qualifies me as someone who has played by conservative financial rules, has done things the right way, went to school, got a good job that benefits society (I am a city planner) and now deserve to reap the rewards.

Unfortunately, my career, as well as those of most Americans, is dependent on avoiding the severe economic depression that is currently staring us in the face. I do not look forward to ten years of the prime of my life being wasted in economic misery. As much as I hate it, my livelihood and the livelihood of most of the world is dependent (you are fortunate to not be so dependent, Andrew, which may contribute to your willingness to allow the country to be taught a lesson) on rescuing our economy by bailing-out the fools and frauds who brought this apocalypse on us.

To me, it feels like giving in to the demands of terrorists so that they will release their hostages. I hate it, but I see no other way around it unless I am willing to myself suffer. And I am no masochist.

Best from a huge fan,

Nathan

Going Green 2

As Obama presented his energy/environmental team today, it becomes clearer that the most 'radical' part of his agenda so far is the clear commitment to taking steps to move the country in a 'green' direction, especially on the issue of climate change. He is not letting the economic crisis stop him from addressing these issues, but instead intends to use the economic stimulus to simultaneously move toward increased energy efficiency and alternative energy sources.

I am overjoyed, to put it mildly. This has been needed for so long. I hope the 'liberal' side of the Obama coalition feels like they've received something important here.

A Kunstler Dissent: The Car Industry as the Titanic

A little slice of the mind of James Kunstler:

It is hugely ironic that the US automobile industry is collapsing at this very moment, and the ongoing debate about whether to "rescue" it or not is an obvious kabuki theater exercise because this industry is hopeless. It is headed into bankruptcy with one hundred percent certainty. The only thing in question is whether the news of its death will spoil the Christmas of those who draw a paycheck from it, or those whose hopes for an easy retirement are vested in it. But American political-economy being very Santa Claus oriented for recent generations, the gesture will be made. A single leaky little lifeboat will be lowered and the chiefs of the Big Three will be invited to go for a brief little row, and then they will sink, glug, glug, glug, while the rusty old Titanic of the car industry slides diagonally into the deep behind them, against a sickening greenish-orange sunset backdrop of the morbid economy.

Auto Bailout Discussion

To listen to a truly fair and balanced discussion of the Auto bailout, go here to a hour-long program of the Diane Rehm show from this morning. There are reps. from journalism, conservative opposition, and labor unions (only missing management, a not insignicant perspective).

I still lean toward the bridge loan, but others I respect aren't so sure, like Tom Friedman here.

Understatement of the Year

The NYTimes on the Monica Lewinski scandal:

Some blame the fixation on impeachment for distracting attention away from larger issues, like the looming threat of Al Qaeda. This was, after all, a battle waged in the luxury of peace and prosperity. Certainly today, in an era of collapsing banks and teetering automakers, terrorist cells and roadside bombs, Mr. Clinton’s prevarications about sex seem less profound.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Friday, December 12, 2008

Hamster on a Piano

This video is for my little brother Paul, who has always had a hamster or guinea pig (along with dogs, cats, and years ago, rabbits).

Musical Interlude: Michael Martin Murphy

Here's a song from the past, 'Wildfire', that makes especial sense this month, with the snows falling in the North and West. It's very evocative of a feeling of the snowy, cold plains.

Really?

The NYT reports:

First thing next month (Friday January 2) will be the primetime debut of a film that has been making the “under the radar” rounds of women and film festivals since May. ABC’s 20/20 will air the documentary “Orgasmic Birth”, by Debra Pascali-Bonaro, a childbirth educator and a doula, which asks the question: What would happen if women were taught to enjoy birth rather than endure it?

Some women will see this film as a declaration of emancipation from the medicalization of childbirth. Others will see it as yet one more way to raise expectations and make new mothers feel inadequate if they do not experience the “ideal” birth.

The message of the film is “that women can journey through labor and birth in all different ways. And there are a lot more options out there, to make this a positive and pleasurable experience,” Pascali-Bonaro tells ABC. “I hope women watching and men watching don’t feel that what we’re saying is every woman should have an orgasmic birth.”

But the title certainly catches attention, referring to what Pascali-Bonaro calls “the best kept secret” of child birth – that some women report having an orgasm as the baby exits the birth canal.


Question: did the author of this documentary ever go through labor and delivery herself?

Lame Duck Shenanigans

Now this is interesting.

The Bush administration plans to sign its first nuclear-cooperation agreement with a Middle Eastern nation [United Arab Emirates] within the next few weeks, according to a senior U.S. official, raising concerns among congressional critics who say the deal could fuel nuclear proliferation in the region.

I say to myself, now why would a lame-duck administration move ahead at this late date with such a potentially controversial and provocative move, considering all the problems we're having trying to keep Iran non-nuclear? Then I read this:

In recent months, the U.A.E. signed agreements with two American engineering companies -- Thorium Power Ltd. of Virginia and CH2M Hill of Colorado -- to oversee the development of its nuclear-power program. The U.A.E. has also hired a 30-year veteran of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, William Travers, to help run the U.A.E.'s nuclear regulatory body. "This is a real counterexample to what Iran is doing," said the senior U.S. official Thursday. "We're seeking commitments from nations within the Middle East that they're going to rely on the markets for nuclear fuel."

The Bush administration also is working on nuclear-cooperation agreements with the governments of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Bahrain. The pacts require Washington to share nuclear fuels, technologies and know-how on the condition that the countries commit to abiding by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and IAEA safeguards.

Of course. Follow the money.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Musical Interlude: Michael Card

This is probably my favorite song by my all-time favorite Christian artist, John Michael Talbot, as sung by his good friend and artist Michael Card: Healer of my Soul.

Junior

Whatever the actual truth, Jesse Jackson Jr. has probably been tainted enough by the Blago scandel that he won't ever become Senator from Illinois. My guess is that he has risen to his natural level of ability as a member of the House of Representatives, where he should be able to productively continue unless more evidence comes out that he was heavily involved in attempting to bribe the Blago for the Senate position.

But there is just something about Jackson that doesn't seem, what, senatorial? Do you know what I mean? It's like Dennis Kucinich running for President--it just doesn't work.

Going Green

Obama's choices for environment and energy look good:

President-elect Barack Obama has chosen Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist who heads the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, to be the next energy secretary, and he has picked veteran regulators from diverse backgrounds to fill three other key jobs on his environmental and climate-change team, Democratic sources said yesterday.

Obama plans to name Carol M. Browner, Environmental Protection Agency administrator for eight years under President Bill Clinton, to fill a new White House post overseeing energy, environmental and climate policies, the sources said. Browner, a member of Obama's transition team, is a principal at the Albright Group.

Obama has also settled on Lisa P. Jackson, recently appointed chief of staff to New Jersey Gov. Jon S. Corzine (D) and former head of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, to head the EPA. Nancy Sutley, a deputy mayor of Los Angeles for energy and environment, will chair the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

The appointments suggest that Obama plans to make a strong push for measures to combat global warming and programs to support energy innovation. "I think it's a great team," said Daniel A. Lashof, director of the Climate Center at the
Natural Resources Defense Council. "On policy, it's a dramatic contrast based on what I know about the policy direction that all these folks will be bringing to these positions."

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Little Corsican General

Talking about men with great power who run roughshod over people, I recently finished a book on the Napoleonic era in Europe, entitled The First Total War by David Bell. This is a somewhat overlooked historical period in most American's education, including mine, and I learned a lot.

Napoleon Bonaparte became the French leader in the 1790s after the French Revolution had basically run its course, culminating in the great Terror and the attempts to completely restructure the society and culture of France, especially by the Girondins and Jacobins. In the meantime, war had broken out between France and the surrounding countries, who felt threatened by the radical change represented by the French Revolution.

Being a brilliant military commander, Napoleon rose to the top of the army and eventually became First Consul, then Emperor. And, given his enormous lust for power, he eventually occupied most of Europe, with only Britain in the west, Scandinavia in the north, and Russia in the east not ever being conquered. He installed his own family members, plus army generals, as the kings and queens of Europe.

According to Bell, the continental war that consequently raged until 1815 was the first case of modern, total warfare. Millions, both military and civilian, died in the bloody, pre-industrial carnage of musket, cannon, sword, and pike.

The conflicts of 1792 to 1815 did not witness any great leaps in military technology, but Europe nevertheless experienced an astonishing transformation in the scope and intensity of warfare....Before 1790, only a handful of battles had involved more than 100,000 combatants; in 1809, the battle of Wagram, the largest yet seen in the gunpowder age, involved 300,000. Four years later, the battle of Leipzig drew 500,000, with fully 150,000 of them killed or wounded. During the Napoleonic period, France alone counted close to a million war deaths, possibly including a higher proportion of its young men than died in World War I. The toll across Europe may have reached as high as 5 million. (p. 7)

I think it's true to say that, with our short memories, as well as our obsession with the Nazis, most Americans think of France as basically a sissy country, having lost WW II without hardly fighting, while the Germans have the reputation as aggressive warriors of great ferocity. But if you just reverse the countries, you'll have the situation at the beginning of the 19th century, as hard as it is to imagine. The French owned Europe. And 120 years later, Hitler was in many ways just imitating that little Corsican general, including, oddly enough, his ill-fated attempt to conquer Russia.

Two Peas in a Pod

Harold Meyerson hits the nail on the head:

On Monday, Sam Zell, the nation's only newspaper mogul who genuinely detests journalism, placed Chicago's signature Tribune Co. into bankruptcy -- effectively wiping out his employees' equity in the company and a share of their pensions, while still managing to come out pretty well himself. Yesterday, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was indicted for allegedly trying to dispose of what had been Barack Obama's Senate seat in a private auction, with all proceeds to go to the care and feeding of Rod Blagojevich.

By arresting Blagojevich and releasing the mind-boggling transcripts of his pea-brained conversations, federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald did Zell a favor: knocking him off the front page. At their core, however, the stories of Blagojevich and Zell tell essentially the same tale -- that of men in positions of great power who believed that their only real responsibility was to themselves.

Musical Interlude: Don Henley

In honor of the Blago, let's hear Don Henley sing his 'End of the Innocence'!

Making Sausage

With regard to Senate appointments, I think I read somewhere that the way democracy actually works can be compared to the way sausage is made: it's something you definitely don't want to watch.

In case you think that Illinois is the only state that does things like this in less than principled ways, I refer you back to my post of two weeks ago on the Delaware Senate seat.

the Idiot

Wiseman David Gergan writes about Gov. Blagojevich:

"I have a hard time pronouncing his name. I just call him the idiot...."

Joe the Plumber Said What?

Politico reports that Joe Wurzelbacher isn't a huge fan of the man who made him famous. He told conservative radio host Glenn Beck that he felt "dirty" after "being on the campaign trail and seeing some of the things that take place."

"I honestly felt even more dirty after I had been on the campaign trail and seen some things that take place. It was scary, man," Wurzelbacher said. He told Beck he asked McCain "some pretty direct questions" about the bailout, and wasn't pleased with the response. "They appalled me, absolutely. You know, I was angry. In fact, I wanted to get off the bus after I talked to him."

But he loved Sarah Palin.

The Best Candidate to Replace Clinton

Commentator Lawrence O'Donnell makes a case for appointing Carolina Kennedy to the Senate replacing Hillary Clinton:

Now that Caroline Kennedy has apparently told New York Governor David Paterson that she would like to be appointed to Hillary Clinton's senate seat, the Governor's short list should have only one name on it. Caroline Kennedy is, by far, the strongest possible choice Paterson could make....

No one has ever been elected to the senate already knowing what he had to know to be a good senator. Caroline knows much more about New York than Hillary Clinton did when she decided to run for senate. Caroline is more prepared to be a senator than Bill Bradley was when he won his seat in New Jersey. Bradley, whose only adult activity prior to running for senate was playing basketball, turned out be an exceptionally good senator. And Caroline is much older, wiser, and better prepared for the job than her Uncle Ted was when he joined the senate.

Man of the People

Do I love this guy or what!

Obama's War on Islamic Extremism

Barack Obama is set to commence his war on Islamic extremism:

Barack Obama says his presidency is an opportunity for the U.S. to renovate its relations with the Muslim world, starting the day of his inauguration and continuing with a speech he plans to deliver in an Islamic capital.

And when he takes the oath of office Jan. 20, he plans to be sworn in like every other president, using his full name: Barack Hussein Obama.

"I think we've got a unique opportunity to reboot America's image around the world and also in the Muslim world in particular,'' Obama said Tuesday, promising an "unrelenting" desire to "create a relationship of mutual respect and partnership in countries and with peoples of good will who want their citizens and ours to prosper together. "The world, he said, "is ready for that message."

And not a moment too soon.

Change of Heart

Yesterday I listened to a fascinating interview with Frank Schaeffer on NPR's Fresh Air. Schaeffer is the son of the deceased Evangelical leader Francis Schaeffer, who founded the influential Swiss ministry called L'Abri during the 60s and who did more than virtually anyone else to begin the turning of the pro-Life movement into a powerful political machine contained within the Republican Party.

Frank Schaeffer was active in this movement with his father for many years, but within the last few years has had a complete change of heart. Just this year, he supported Barack Obama for President and wrote about his reasons for that. But his interview with Terri Gross (click on the link in the above paragraph and then click on the red 'speaker') is especially interesting for the insights he gives into his childhood at L'Abri, the man his father really was, his involvement in the Religious Right in the 80s and 90s, and his change of heart. (I recommend listening to it to the very end, where he shares some particularly poignant information about his father which I hadn't heard before.)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Political Sewer

I guess if Barack Obama can come through the political sewer of Chicago/Illinois politics without being soiled, then maybe he really can run with the big boys. There are some pretty corrupt Heads of State out there in the world, and this may have been good training for the President-Elect.

Pathological

Josh Marshall puts it this way:

Even setting aside the primordial level of corruption of trying to sell the senate seat of the President-elect of the United States, I never fail to be amazed at the brazenness and stupidity of some political crooks. I mean, I think everyone involved in politics or interested in political corruption in the country had to know that Blagojevich's phones were tapped and probably his offices were bugged, and that Pat Fitzgerald had him under the craziest level of scrutiny. And he tries to sell the senate seat with that hanging over his head? That's simply amazing. I guess you could say he's just a traditionalist, trying to keep up heritage of Chicago machine politics. But with some of these characters, it must just be pathological.

Arrogant Punk

Jack Cafferty of CNN can be so refreshing: "Blogajevich is an arrogant punk."

Is That My Brother-in-Law Paul in the Cockpit?

This is my favorite commercial at the moment:

Corruption in Illinois

The bombshell that is the criminal complaint against the Governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, is rocking the nation right now. It looks as if Obama wasn't connected, thank God. In any case, if you want to read a bio of the man that sounds like it prophesies political corruption, look here.

Apparently he was supremely unpopular in Illinois: Polling completed on October 13, 2008 put Blagojevich's approval rating among Illinois voters at 4%. Blagojevich ranks as “Least Popular Governor” in the nation according to Rasmussen Reports By the Numbers.

A Kunstler Dissent: A Hardship Society

One of the writers I've been paying attention to for years now is James Howard Kunstler. I first ran across him when I read a book written by him my son Nathan had at home with him from college. It was The Geography of Nowhere, and it dealt with the great mistake that America had made in the way it structured its housing and other property since the beginning of the auto era. It was really an eye-opener for me.

More recently, I've been reading his work on Peak Oil, which is the theory that the global supply of oil has, or soon will, peak and start declining, leading to all kinds of problems. His book, The Long Emergency, goes into the global ramifications of peak oil.

Kunstler is always a bit of a gloomy, almost apocalyptic read. His knee-jerk reaction to events seems to be to put the worst possible spin on it, from his perspective. I think he is often correct in what he says, but he doesn't allow much room for innovation, new ideas, and new inventions, it seems to me.

He also publishes a weekly 'essay' on his website, called 'The Clusterfuck Nation Chronicle'. It is always an interesting perspective on the current events, and I want to quote a brief paragraph from it here. I don't necessarily agree with him, though I find him both interesting and sometimes persuasive.

The broad American public voted for "change" but they thought that meant a "changing of the guard." Out with the feckless Bush; in with the charismatic Obama... and may this American life now continue just as it ever was. The change actually coming will be much more than they bargained for, namely our transition from a wealthy society to a hardship society. The sharp break is a product of our years-long failure to reckon with the energy realities of our time. We're still confused about that, but it's hard, otherwise, to ignore the massive disappearance of capital, asset values, livelihoods, domiciles, comforts, and necessities.

Sad, Sad Zimbabwe

Richard Cohen argues here for international intervention against President Mugabe of Zimbabwe. If ever there was a case for not sitting back and doing nothing, it is probably here. My guess is that when Susan Rice is sworn in as UN Ambassador, something will happen on that front quite quickly.

Caroline Kennedy

Carolina Kennedy for Senate from the great state of New York (from where my wife hails). I guess it would be interesting to have a poll of the New York citizens to see if they would like this, since there won't be a vote until 2010. I've been ambivalent about this possibility, but I agree with this column by Ruth Marcus in the Washington Post today.

And when you think about some of the scoundrels in politics today, like Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska and the great Senator from Idaho, Larry Craig, arrested for soliciting gay sex in an airport bathroom, at least Caroline Kennedy would seem to have the national interest at heart at all times, as well as conduct herself with dignity. It would also be great to have at least a couple of Senators who don't get bogged down in local politics and pro quid quos to raise money for their campaigns, but think about the larger issues. She definitely has class.

My heart says yes too!

Sam Zell--Capitalism at its Worst

Harold Meyerson writes about the Chicago real estate magnet Sam Zell, who appears to be well on his well to destroying the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times, as well as the Chicago Cubs. This is disgusting. (Read a bio on Sam Zell and more about his newspaper purchases on Wikipedia here.)

Sam Zell never really had much skin in the game. Last year, when he purchased the Tribune Company, which filed for bankruptcy today, he put up $315 million of his own money and paid the balance of the purchase price, $8.2 billion, with the employee stock ownership plan – a move in which Tribune employees had no say whatever. But that actually overstates the amount of Zell’s investment. Of the $315 million he sunk into the company, it turns out that $225 million was simply a promissory note. Due to the vagaries of bankruptcy law, writes business analyst Mark Lacter on laobserved.com, that means that Zell has better protection for his stake than all his employees. Trib’s ESOP holds 100 percent of the company common equity – and it’s the holders of common stock who usually take a bath, or get wiped out altogether, in the debt restructuring that goes on under Chapter 11.

It sounds like Zell is trying to imitate Rupert Murdoch. Why don't these guys stay out of journalism? They don't belong there.

Between Zell and the Governor of Illinois who was just arrested, Chicago is sure getting a black eye today.

Pakistan Is The Bullseye

Asif Ali Zardari, the president of Pakistan, writes what seems to me to be a very important op-ed column in the NYT. He explains why Pakistan may be the biggest victim of all of Islamic terror, and why the West needs to work closely with democratic forces in Pakistan to bring the extremists under control.

The challenge of confronting terrorists who have a vast support network is huge; Pakistan’s fledgling democracy needs help from the rest of the world. We are on the frontlines of the war on terrorism. We have 150,000 soldiers fighting Al Qaeda, the Taliban and their extremist allies along the border with Afghanistan — far more troops than NATO has in Afghanistan.

Nearly 2,000 Pakistanis have lost their lives to terrorism in this year alone, including 1,400 civilians and 600 security personnel ranging in rank from ordinary soldier to three-star general. There have been more than 600 terrorism-related incidents in Pakistan this year. The terrorists have been set back by our aggressive war against them in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and the Pashtun-majority areas bordering Afghanistan. Six hundred militants have been killed in recent attacks, hundreds by Pakistani F-16 jet strikes in the last two months.

Many of us have thought for a long time that Pakistan, not Iraq or Iran or even Afghanistan, was the most dangerous place in the world when it comes to radical Islam.

Wait for it, wait for it......

Illinois Governor arrested this morning.

Conservatives looking for ways to tie it to Obama as we speak......

UPDATE: Red State is out of the box with the headline: Charges Against Blago Imply Outreach to Obama

Luckily for them, they can ignore the fact that the prosecutor explicitly said that the Obama team wouldn't play ball with Blago. As Blago himself said: "they're not willing to give me anything except appreciation. [Expletive] them."

UPDATE II: ROD BLAGOJEVICH stated that he is “struggling” financially and does “not want to be Governor for the next two years.”

I suspect the prosecutor can arrange that.

h/t to Red State.

Chilling

This blog from the NYT Baghdad Bureau is really something. Read this post from an embedded Princeton University student who was present when an Iraqi soldier opened fire on some American soldiers, killing two and wounding about five others.

Inside Baghdad

Here is a very interesting post on a blog from the New York Times Baghdad bureau. It is by an Iraqi citizen who stayed there the last five years, and the differences between him and other Iraqis who fled the country to Syria and Dubai but have now returned.

Note: Islamists are those who have a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, versus moderates or even secularists. For comparison, think of your average Christian believer versus Rev. Jerry Falwell.

Bang for the Buck

What a dollar of stimulus puts back into the economy when spent on:

(doubleclick on the picture to see the whole thing)


This is surprising to me (found it at Mother Jones). Those items that are the most "bleeding heart liberal", like food stamps and unemployment benefits, are actually the smartest investments that government can make. Meanwhile those items that are the dreams of the conservative business lobby like corporate tax cuts and capital gains taxes don't do squat for the economy. Now, this doesn't mean that taxes should never be cut. There are times when job creation can be stimulated that way. But when you are talking about a deflationary spiral, two words that should strike fear into the hearts of all Americans, corporate tax cuts are irrelevant. We have to find efficient ways to pump immediate money into the economy, into the lives of everyday working people, or previously working people.

I think this is what Obama means when he talks about building the economy from the bottom up.

Sick

I hope you are well in this season of colds and flu. I'm sitting at home coughing, sneezing, and feeling very miserable, just like yesterday. About all I can do is sit in front of my computer and type.

One of the things I would like to do, if I were well, is go visit Amanda Bostick in the hospital in Winston-Salem where she gave birth to twin girls yesterday. This is one brave and strong woman, let me tell you. She's been in the hospital over two months, holding off on her babies' premature birth. And she did it! They were born early yesterday morning, and they should all be going home Thursday.

Congratulations, Amanda (and also to her husband Carlos)!!

Getting It Right

Arianna Huffington writes:

Among its myriad failings, the Bush administration has repeatedly gotten it wrong when it comes to getting it right. Over the last eight years, there has consistently been no penalty for those who have gotten things - even the most important things - wrong, and no reward for those who have gotten things right. Call it Bush Darwinism: survival of the unfittest. Over the weekend, Barack Obama made an encouraging move to reverse that unintelligent design by appointing Eric Shinseki to head the VA. By making a deliberate effort to reward Those Who Got It Right, Obama not only sends a message that the days of Bush Darwinism are over, he makes it far more likely that the next Eric Shinseki will be willing to step forward and speak up.

G.M. and AIG

With all the discussion about the auto companies and this fairly small bridge loan, I can't understand why the insurance company AIG didn't undergo such scrutiny back in the fall, when they received over $100 billion in a bailout. Didn't they restructure? Why wasn't there intense discussion about the way they were doing things? This is puzzling me.

Obama's Citizenship

The controversy over whether Barack Obama is a 'natural born citizen' as defined by the U.S. Constitution is getting air-time these days. I had heard about it during the campaign but didn't think much about it.

As usual, the first place I went for some enlightenment was Wikipedia, and I found this entry there. I wish I could say that it definitively resolved the issue one way or the other, but it really didn't. What it did do was to lay out many of the nuances and unresolved issues surrounding this constitutional provision. As with so many constitutional issues, it is never quite as black and white as I would like it to be (I hope you get the pun, though I just now saw it myself).

The interesting thing is that just as with Obama, there is also some question about the status of the constitutional citizenship of John McCain, actually more so. McCain was born in the Panama Canal Zone on a military base, and as the article points out, this may not fit the definition of 'natural born citizen.'

As for Obama, if he were born in Hawaii as his birth certificate certifies, then he is without a doubt a 'natural born citizen.' But those pushing this issue claim that he may have been born in Kenya instead. What evidence they have for this, I'm not sure. If that could be proved, of course, it might take a Supreme Court decision to straighten all this out. Since the Supreme Court declined to hear the case, it seems a dead-letter for now.

What is not in question is that Obama's mother was a U.S. citizen, which makes Barack a citizen as well from birth. To me, that should settle the issue. But for some reason, it doesn't seem to be that simple.

With everything confronting our country at this time in our history, it seems very odd that we should be dealing with this very obscure question. But I'm not one to push things under the rug, so I thought perhaps you would find a little discussion about it helpful.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Competence and Vision

Here's the deal: Obama intends to use his appointees' experience and competence to achieve his own vision for the country and the world. It sounds like a good plan. We shall see how and if this works. But he's still got my vote of confidence.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

'Yes, We Can' for Republicans

I hadn't seen this video during the campaign. But it's being touted as the Republican's 'Yes, We Can:' that is, the most popular and effective ad for McCain.


Left Out

David Corn, writing from the left, expresses the concerns on the left about Obama's centrist selections for most Cabinet positions. Like me, he hopes that Obama will use the establishment for progressive ends.

And I'm not yet reaching for a pitchfork. During the primary and general campaign, Obama and his team demonstrated that they possess plenty of strategic and tactical smarts. Perhaps they can show the same when it comes to governing. For the moment, the watchword for progressives ought to be a version of an old Reagan trope: hope, but verify.

That doesn't mean Obama deserves a pass for (so far) bypassing progressives. When he announced his foreign policy advisers last week, he declared that he was a "strong believer in strong personalities and strong opinions" and wanted "a vigorous debate inside the White House." But he has largely left liberals out of the debate. If strong progressive voices are not included in Obama's wild and woolly free-for-alls at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., they will have little choice but to find outlets on the outside (remember the Internet?) -- and become their own agents of change.

The Dumbest Generation

In a fascinating article by Neil Howe, he tries to answer the question, 'which is the dumbest generation?'

The answer may surprise you. No, it's not today's college-age kids, nor even today's family-starting 30-somethings. And no, it's not the 60-year-olds who once grooved at Woodstock. Instead, it's Americans in their 40s, especially their late 40s -- those born from the late 1950s to the mid-1960s. They straddle the boundary line between last-wave boomers and first-wave Generation Xers. The political consultant Jonathan Pontell labels them "Generation Jones."

Whatever you call them (I'll just call them early Xers), the numbers are clear: Compared with every other birth cohort, they have performed the worst on standardized exams, acquired the fewest educational degrees and been the least attracted to professional careers. In a word, they're the dumbest.

Why?

The early Xers' location in history also plays a large role. Quite simply, they were children at a uniquely unfavorable moment -- a time when the divorce rate accelerated, when the media image of children turned demonic and when the "latch-key" lesson for kids stressed self-reliance rather than trust in others. By the time they entered middle and high school, classrooms were opened, standards were lowered, and supervision had disappeared. Compared with earlier- or later-born students at the same age, these kids were assigned less homework, watched more TV and took more drugs.

Best and Brightest

Frank Rich has reservations about the economic team Obama has put together, as have I:

In the Obama transition, our Clinton-fixated political culture has been hyperventilating mainly over the national security team, but that’s not what gives me pause....No, it’s the economic team that evokes trace memories of our dark best-and-brightest past. Lawrence Summers, the new top economic adviser, was the youngest tenured professor in Harvard’s history and is famous for never letting anyone forget his brilliance. It was his highhanded disregard for his own colleagues, not his impolitic remarks about gender and science, that forced him out of Harvard’s presidency in four years. Timothy Geithner, the nominee for Treasury secretary, is the boy wonder president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. He comes with none of Summers’s personal baggage, but his sparkling résumé is missing one crucial asset: experience outside academe and government, in the real world of business and finance. Postgraduate finishing school at Kissinger & Associates doesn’t count.

Summers and Geithner are both protégés of another master of the universe, Robert Rubin. His appearance in the photo op for Obama-transition economic advisers three days after the election was, to put it mildly, disconcerting. Ever since his acclaimed service as Treasury secretary in the Clinton administration, Rubin has labored as a senior adviser and director at Citigroup, now being bailed out by taxpayers to the potential tune of some $300 billion. Somehow the all-seeing Rubin didn’t notice the toxic mortgage-derivatives on Citi’s books until it was too late. The Citi may never sleep, but he snored.

Why you'd put men in charge who not only didn't see the disaster coming, but also were partly responsible for it, beats me. This is probably my greatest area of concern right now.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Benefit of the Doubt

As we move past the election and through the transition period, I'm beginning to realize how much I'm giving Obama the benefit of the doubt. In the all the decisions he has to make, both as to cabinet appointments, staff, and then policy, there is no way I can know all the details and background information that is going into those decisions. And so I tend to say to myself, "well, I trust his basic judgment and intelligence and vision for our country, so I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt."

I also realize how much the supporters of President Bush, because they agreed with what they knew of him and his political perspective, gave him the benefit of the doubt with regards to the war in Iraq. I didn't agree with him on many things at all, so I was very suspicious (and my suspicions, such as on WMD in Iraq, turned out to be correct). And now, I can imagine that those who don't agree with Obama and didn't vote for him are suspicious of his decisions. I guess that's the way these things work.

Obama's pragmatic, centrist approach is no surprise to me, since I understood from the beginning that that is the way he does things, believing that you can only achieve you're goals that way. But I also believe that his goals are what you might call 'liberal'. Phase out the war in Iraq. Use more soft power. Try to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Be more multilateral in our foreign relations. Work for peace. Fight global warming. Try to help the average American more than the wealthy and powerful.

But he has been handed an enormous economic crisis to deal with first. And he will need all his intelligence, listening skills, political skills, and wisdom to get this one under control. This is the job he wanted. I hope he likes it.

First Time Home Buyers

If you're a young person, you might interested in this article in the New York Times about first-time home buyers, the current housing market, and what it takes to buy a home these days.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Bill Ayers Gets His Say

Bill Ayers gets his say in an op-ed piece in the New York Times.

Musical Interlude--Elton John

It's Friday!


Winter Scene

One of my favorite photos from off the coast of Norway in 2002

Palin's Last Pregnancy

Blogger Andrew Sullivan continues to raise the question of the last pregnancy of Sarah Palin. It is an extremely odd question, this pregnancy, but one that won't go away. See for yourself.

The Big 3

Should the Big Three Auto companies be given a bridge loan by the federal government to help them avoid collapse? Everyone has their opinion, and here's mine.

First of all, this is a huge concentrated industry in the U.S, that affects the jobs of hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions. So it is probably an exception in terms of whether or not the government should bail them out.

Second, they have been inordinately affected by the financial crisis, brought on by many crazy and irresponsible inane decisions of both the financial industry and the government. People can no longer easily get loans to buy cars and trucks. Ergo sales are way down. Add to that the falling income of many people, and the runup in the price of gas last summer, and you have a perfect storm for the car industry, most of which is not their fault.

Third, even if the auto companies have not been preparing for the era of high gas prices like they should have, the Congress is also negligent in not forcing them to make changes. There is plenty of blame to go around, including the American consumers who wanted SUVs and trucks. Until this year, American society in general wasn't really interested in small cars, so why should we try to lay all the blame on the car companies? Even Toyota and Honda made big trucks and cars for our cheap-gas market.

Fourth, how can the government basically just give hundreds of billions of dollars to the financial industry, and at the same time not consider a loan to the auto companies?

And finally, we cannot take the chance at this time of exacerbating the economic recession or our trade deficit by letting the auto companies free-fall out of existence.

There might be a case for a pre-planned, carefully managed bankruptcy to allow for the restructuring of the companies for the new era quickly coming. But this should probably include enough government funding to be allow the companies to survive, albeit restructured.

So, I'm basically for helping the Big Three. The CEOs driving in their hybrids to D.C. was also a nice touch (a little humiliation and groveling never hurt anyone!).