Sunday, November 30, 2008

Mumbai Horror

The reports coming out of Mumbai, India keep getting worse and worse. It looks like the terrorists were living up to their name, in that they were intent on killing anyone they could and as many as they could, without reason or discrimination except to produce the greatest amount of terror and horror possible.

What kind of ideology, let along morality, could produce such diabolical behavior?

This incident may do more than anything else to isolate its perpetrators from the rest of the world community and unite the world to crush such an inhuman and nihilistic movement.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Moving Ahead on Health Care

Some thoughts on health care reform:

When it comes to medical care, the United States isn't getting its money's worth. Not even close.

"Our health-care system is fraught with waste," says Gary Kaplan, chairman of Seattle's cutting-edge Virginia Mason Medical Center. As much as half of the $2.3 trillion spent today does nothing to improve health, he says.

Not only is American health care inefficient and wasteful, says Kaiser Permanente chief executive George Halvorson, much of it is dangerous.

....Among physicians, insurers, academics and corporate executives from across the ideological spectrum, there is remarkably broad consensus on what ought to be done. A high-performance 21st-century health system, they say, must revolve around the central goal of paying for results. That will entail managing chronic illnesses better, adopting electronic medical records, coordinating care, researching what treatments work best, realigning financial incentives to reward success, encouraging prevention strategies and, most daunting but perhaps most important, saying no to expensive, unproven therapies.

One Nation Under God Indivisible

The pastor who was responsible for the insertion of the words 'under God' into the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954 died Thursday. The Reverend George Docherty, former pastor of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., was 97. Read the story of how he accomplished the insertion here.

Gov. Jindal Shows Up in Iowa

Even before Barack Obama takes office as President, the Republicans are beginning the search for a leader. Talk now turns to Gov. Jindal of Louisiana:

Jindal supporters regularly evoke the Reagan parallel, fueled by a confidence that their hero's brand of social and fiscal conservatism, coupled with his sunny folksiness on the stump, can rekindle the Reagan flame. But all the comparisons end there. In 1981, Reagan entered the presidency at age 69, in the model of a leader the party traditionally favored then, older and seasoned. Just an elementary school kid when Reagan stepped into the Oval Office, Jindal is boyish-looking and six years younger than John F. Kennedy was when he became the nation's youngest elected president.

Jindal is his own invention, in the mold of an Obama. Born in Louisiana as Piyush Jindal to highly educated immigrants from India, he decided as a young child to nickname himself "Bobby," after his favorite character on the TV show "The Brady Bunch." Raised as a Hindu, he converted to Catholicism while in college and later wrote a lengthy, intimate story that provided a window on his religious evolution, in a manner that fairly calls to mind Obama's books about his own grappling with issues of self-identity. Success at Brown University and later at Oxford University during his Rhodes years led to high-profile attention in the power corridors of Louisiana and Washington.

The record is still evolving, like the rest of him. But social conservatives like what they have heard about the public and private Jindal: his steadfast opposition to abortion without exceptions; his disapproval of embryonic stem cell research; his and his wife Supriya's decision in 1997 to enter into a Louisiana covenant marriage that prohibits no-fault divorce in the state; and his decision in June to sign into law the Louisiana Science Education Act, a bill heartily supported by creationists that permits public school teachers to educate students about both the theory of "scientific design" and criticisms of Darwinian evolutionary concepts.

It looks like he meets the anti-abortion and creationism standards of the religious right, while also demonstrating pragmatic governing skills as the Louisiana state executive. At the same time, he has the education and intelligence that someone like Palin lacks.

Could be a winner.

Why Didn't They See the Crisis Coming?

Paul Krugman answers the question: 'why didn't anyone see the financial crisis coming'?

One answer to these questions is that nobody likes a party pooper. While the housing bubble was still inflating, lenders were making lots of money issuing mortgages to anyone who walked in the door; investment banks were making even more money repackaging those mortgages into shiny new securities; and money managers who booked big paper profits by buying those securities with borrowed funds looked like geniuses, and were paid accordingly. Who wanted to hear from dismal economists warning that the whole thing was, in effect, a giant Ponzi scheme?

There’s also another reason the economic policy establishment failed to see the current crisis coming. The crises of the 1990s and the early years of this decade should have been seen as dire omens, as intimations of still worse troubles to come. But everyone was too busy celebrating our success in getting through those crises to notice.

Target: Mumbai

We're back from Highlands, having had a nice visit with friends. Now, back to work.

This excerpt gives one of the reasons why Islamic extremists might have wanted to target Mumbai (formerly called Bombay), India.

Mumbai is all about dhandha, or transaction. From the street food vendor squatting on a sidewalk, fiercely guarding his little business, to the tycoons and their dreams of acquiring Hollywood, this city understands money and has no guilt about the getting and spending of it. I once asked a Muslim man living in a shack without indoor plumbing what kept him in the city. “Mumbai is a golden songbird,” he said. It flies quick and sly, and you’ll have to work hard to catch it, but if you do, a fabulous fortune will open up for you. The executives who congregated in the Taj Mahal hotel were chasing this golden songbird. The terrorists want to kill the songbird.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

A Little Time Away

I'll be out of pocket Friday and Saturday, visiting friends in Highlands. So I'll see you back on Sunday sometime.

The National Embarrassment of Guantanamo

Roger Cohen writes in the NYT about the scandel of Guantanamo:

Of the 770 detainees grabbed here and there and flown to Guantánamo, only 23 have ever been charged with a crime. Of the more than 500 so far released, many traumatized by those “enhanced” techniques, not one has received an apology or compensation for their season in hell.

What they got on release was a single piece of paper from the American government. A U.S. official met one of the dozens of Afghans now released from Guantánamo and was so appalled by this document that he forwarded me a copy.

Dated Oct. 7, 2006, it reads as follows:
“An Administrative Review Board has reviewed the information about you that was talked about at the meeting on 02 December 2005 and the deciding official in the United States has made a decision about what will happen to you. You will be sent to the country of Afghanistan. Your departure will occur as soon as possible.”

That’s it, the one and only record on paper of protracted U.S. incarceration: three sentences for four years of a young Afghan’s life, written in language Orwell would have recognized.
We have “the deciding official,” not an officer, general or judge. We have “the information about you,” not allegations, or accusations, let alone charges. We have “a decision about what will happen to you,” not a judgment, ruling or verdict. This is the lexicon of totalitarianism. It is acutely embarrassing to the United States.

List of Thankfulnesses

Sarah Palin has apparently issued a 'list of thankfulnesses', which you can read here.

Here's What I'm Really Thankful For

The Dark Power Behind the Throne

In a fascinating conversation among Oliver Stone, Bob Woodward, Ron Suskind, and Jacob Weisberg about Stone's movie 'W', Stone describes Cheney just as I've always seen him. (There is more that you might want to read in the original article.)

As to Cheney and his concept of the domination of world resources, you accuse me of "paranoid fantasy" and compare me, surprisingly, to McCain and Palin. Well, I've been there before. (Frankly, I've been compared to worse historical figures.) But I don't think many people would think that I'm far off the mark in the plausibility of the Cheney character arguing for control of Iraqi, Iranian, and Eurasian resources....

I'm bewildered, first, by your categorical disregard for his 1999 speech before the Petroleum Institute. The key quote remains: "The Middle East, with two-thirds of the world's oil and the lowest cost, is still where the prize ultimately lies." Do you really think his views changed that much in three years? I'm sure you remember that in 2001 the vice president's energy task force spent a great deal of time courting every significant oil company to weigh in on the national energy policy—even though this was denied by everyone at the time. And what was the conclusion of Cheney's task force? That "by any estimation, Middle East oil producers will remain central to world oil security."

....I think in closing that we would agree that the fascinating portrait of Cheney as a Hobbesian, completely realistic, America-first survivalist, and (in contradiction to the Bush theology) a Darwinian of the first order, wherein the strong eat the weak, is quite plausible. That Dick Cheney, in his methodical, quiet, 1 percent way, must surely be thinking of the future of America in the next 50 years. In his entire government experience, he's been nothing less than loyal to his version of its perceived interests. Unfortunately, as was the case with many "armchair patriots" before him, defending those interests has led us into a "black hole." We made Cheney's plan for world domination as alluring and economically brief as possible for a dramatic audience. However, reading books such as Larry Everest's Oil, Power, and Empire, you will find a realistic, certainly plausible assessment of world energy policy, as perceived by the oil companies. There is a wonderful moment, I think, in the "Situation Room" scene, where Colin Powell looks over at Cheney after his monologue and says, somewhat with awe, "Spoken like a true oilman."

Rare Opportunity

Eugene Robinson, Washington Post columnist and regular commentator on MSNBC, who seems to be a really great guy, writes on this Thanksgiving Day with a sense of hope:

As we celebrate Thanksgiving and enter the holiday season, it feels as if our nation is at a cusp, a brink, a verge. It's true that if things get much more "interesting," we might have a collective nervous breakdown. But along with the anxiety, there's also a sense of rare opportunity -- a chance to emerge better than we were economically, politically and socially.

....we've all learned that dealmaking for dealmaking's sake -- for decades, the most highly compensated business activity in America -- does not in fact create enduring wealth. There are straight-A seniors at Harvard and Princeton who planned to go into investment banking before the whole industry imploded. Now, maybe some of these brainiacs will go to work for the auto industry and save Detroit. Maybe some will invent, manufacture and market world-changing "green technology." Maybe some will join the Peace Corps. Maybe some will become teachers.

Politically, Americans are less divided than we've been since at least the Reagan era, perhaps longer. I know that many people would dispute that assertion, but I'll defend it.
Barack Obama's victory margin, 53 to 46 percent, didn't qualify as a popular-vote landslide. But considered with other factors -- Obama's electoral vote haul, which was a landslide; the Democratic Party's gains in both houses of Congress -- the outcome was a clear mandate.

The only point I might disagree with him on is the 'landslide' comment. I think that given the circumstances, this was a landslide election, the most decisive since 1992, which these days, seems like an eternity.

But I also must add his final two paragraphs, which are so true.

A conservative opinion-maker told me recently that she really, truly, with all her heart wanted John McCain to win -- and then, when Obama and his family appeared on election night, "it all just went away." It wasn't that she forswore her candidate or her conservative philosophy -- soon she'll be writing elegant eviscerations of the new president's policies. But she understood the epochal significance of the election of the first African American president, and she was deeply moved.

In myriad ways that we'll discover over the next four years, Obama's election makes this a different country -- "a more perfect union." I, for one, feel blessed to live in such interesting times.

Musical Interlude: Sting

In memory of the Mumbai victims of terrorist attack, a beautiful song by Sting called Fragile.

A Big First Hurdle

Amen to That

The New York Times writes in an editorial today:

President-elect Barack Obama is arguing that there is no better time than the present to invest heavily in clean energy technologies. Such investment, he says, would confront the threat of unchecked warming, reduce the country’s dependence on foreign oil and help revive the American economy.

Call it what you will: a climate policy wrapped inside an energy policy wrapped inside an economic policy. By any name, it is a radical shift from the defeatism and denial that marked President Bush’s eight years in office. If Mr. Obama follows through on his commitments, this country will at last provide the global leadership that is essential for addressing the dangers of climate change.

Intellectual Self-confidence

Roger Cohen on one big difference between Bush 43 and Obama:

President Bush had one overriding criterion in choosing his inner circle: loyalty. The result was nobody would pull the plug on stupidity. Obama wants the kind of competence and brainpower that challenge him. The God-gut decision-making of The Decider got us in this mess. Getting out of it will require an Oval Office where smart dissent is prized.

It's So Nice Having A President You Really Respect

The Obamas at a Food Bank on the Day before Thanksgiving

Pruning the Pentagon

Here's why Obama is keeping Gates at Defense--fundamental reform at the Pentagon:

In a properly functioning administration, the Secretary of Defense is one of several key voices advising the president on where and how to exercise military force. But he possesses primary responsibility for deciding how that force should be structured, staffed, equipped, and supplied. Those are decisions the president largely delegates, and thus where the secretary exercises his greatest degree of autonomy. And it is in those realms of defense policy that Gates has most distinguished himself. In retaining Gates, Obama is sending a clear signal to the Pentagon bureaucracy that their usual strategy of stalling and out-lasting civilian appointees is going to fail; that he intends to pursue Gates' key reforms. And that's a decision which should make us all stand and cheer."

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Liberal Blogs Spill the Beans on Brennan

According to the internet, the liberal blogs have derailed the appointment of John Brennan to the post of CIA director in the new administration. This was because, they say, of his support for torture and rendition during the last eight years. Sometimes experience and competence actually get in the way, when morality is missing.

We'll see where he ends up, then cheer.

Wall Street Misery

The real sadness of Wall Street layoffs:

Sophie sighs and sips her Pinot gris. "It's getting harder and harder to find a good man," she says. "Everyone is looking for handsome, rich and charming men but there are less and less of them to go around." Since the financial markets started collapsing back in March, wealthy Prince Charmings, already an endangered species on the nightlife scene, have become almost completely extinct. The handsome ones aren't charming, the charming ones aren't handsome and many of the rich ones are now poor....

How About a Little Love Here

Candace Gingrich, sister to Newt, writes a letter here to her brother. Ouch!


This is possibly the best news I've heard all day. I know, that's awful.

A Thanksgiving Sermon

Would you like to read a good Thanksgiving sermon? Look here.

Musical Interlude: Steven Curtis Chapman

One of my favorite Christian artists for decades has been Steven Curtis Chapman. Here is one of his most beautiful and meaningful pieces of music ever, entitled Be Still. (I don't know who took the photos, and they're just taken in woods somewhere, including a hornet's nest! I found it on YouTube.)

Smart Public Policy

Bob Herbert writes today:

One of the reasons the U.S. is in such deep trouble is that it has stopped being smart — turning its back on excellence, sophistication and long-term planning — in its public policies and corporate behavior. We’ve seen it in Iraq, in New Orleans, in the fiscal policies of the Bush administration, in the scandalous neglect of public education, in the financial sector meltdown, the auto industry and on and on. We’ve lionized dimwits. And now we’re paying the price.

This is what Obama intends to do, and what the conservative Republicans could never have done, with their demonizing of the public sector (except for the military, of course). And it is where the Republicans need to get to if they ever want to return to power.

A Giant Among Dwarfs

Have I said that Barack Obama is the most amazing politician (and now President-elect) that has come down the pike in a long, long time? He stands above the average politician as a giant among dwarfs. That is why he generated so much interest and support (including from me) in the last two years.

Did God send him to us for exactly this time? A religious person should be allowed to think such thoughts, it seems. But wherever he came from, thank God for him. And if you're not a religious person, well, thank yourself or nature or chance or whatever it is you believe in.

The Vision Thing

E. J. Dionne gives the reason for Obama's economic appointments:

Getting Timothy Geithner and former Treasury secretary Larry Summers working in harness is Obama's single biggest post-election victory.

Some who know Summers, a man with a large personality, were surprised that he would take the job as inside-the-White-House economic adviser and accept the appointment of Geithner, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, as Treasury secretary.

But Obama's aides are making clear that Summers is being assigned a large role in shaping the administration's overall economic policy, and his White House post will free him from the day-to-day responsibilities of running the Treasury Department -- duties well suited for Geithner, widely seen as a good manager and also as an economic diplomat likely to broker international cooperation in stemming the downturn. The fact that Summers and Geithner have a long history of working together should ease potential conflicts.

But even more important, Obama knows that the larger direction America needs to go in requires fixing the economy:

But Obama is also using the crisis to make the case for larger structural reforms in health care, energy and education -- "to lay the groundwork for long-term, sustained economic growth," as he put it. Obama clearly views the economic downturn not as an impediment to the broadly progressive program he outlined during the campaign but as an opportunity for a round of unprecedented social legislation.

"He feels very strongly that this is not just a short-term fix but a long-term retooling of the American economy," said one of Obama's closest advisers. "Obama has a holistic view of the economy. Health care is going to be part of it," the lieutenant told me, and so will green energy investments, education reform and a new approach to regulating financial markets.

This is what I was writing about here yesterday. Obama is looking to the Big Picture.

Media for Obama

Have you seen the complaints of how unfairly the media treated McCain/Palin during the election and how slanted they were toward Obama? My thought on this is how could any reasonable person, not blinded by ideology, not be slanted toward Barack Obama and Joe Biden, or at least turned off by the ridiculous McCain/Palin show and their farcical charges against Obama ('pals around with terrorists', 'socialist', 'radical', 'alien').

First off, the McCain of the campaign was a different McCain from what we had seen for almost 30 years. The real McCain was hidden and invisible. He finally showed up in his concession speech, but then it was too late. And second, I'm sorry, Sarah Palin was a joke, a person totally and completely unprepared to be Vice-President. She was picked because, one, she was a woman and thought to be able to pull in some of the Clinton women, and, two, because she pleased and fired up the religious and cultural right of the Republican Party. Did anyone in the Republican Party think that maybe, just maybe, the vice-presidential nominee should have some pre-existing qualifications to be the most powerful person in the world?

Think now, back to the 1932 election of Hoover against Roosevelt. Would it really surprise anyone, let alone offend anyone, if the press intuitively slanted toward Roosevelt in that campaign? The members of the press aren't machines who can meticulously balance every thought they think and every article they write, they're human beings who actually think thoughts and have families for whom they're concerned. I personally don't want them to be automatons who are mechanically 'objective' and 'fair and balanced.'

I think the media did their job just right.

Update: Andrew Sullivan writes in a similar vein:

The press is not supposed to be relentlessly in the middle of whatever two political parties at any moment in time represent. It's also supposed to have its own understanding of reality. After the worst presidency since Buchanan, with a default Republican nominee who picked a deranged know-nothing fem-bot as veep, with two disastrous wars, the worst attack on the US homeland in history and an economic crisis of unparalleled proportions in the modern world, some reporters and journalists had a duty to subject the incumbent party to more skepticism than the challenger.

The McCain campaign was, historians will note, one of the worst in memory. It is not disgusting bias for the media to reflect that at the time.

Driving on the Right Shoulder

To some of my conservative friends who are praying that Obama will move to the political center, I have said from the beginning that, if you were paying attention, he has campaigned basically from the center for years. And now he is appointing his cabinet and administration, especially his foreign and economic policy team from the center as well.

What always confuses conservatives about Obama is that he was opposed to the Iraq War. But so was Brent Scowcroft and Jim Baker of the first Bush administration, hardly liberal types. They also think that because Obama is tremendously concerned about global warming, he must be a left-winger. But plenty of thoughtful conservatives have been concerned about global warming, though granted that our American conservatives haven't been particularly thoughtful in this regard. But do they think that preserving the ozone layer against destruction by aerosols was a socialist plot? Then why should taking steps to curb the global warming that the vast majority of scientists know is a problem. Heck, any sentient non-scientist can see that the polar ice cap and glaciers all over the world are disappearing. C'mon, think!! Thaw out your ideologically frozen minds and think some new thoughts.

The truth has been that when you're driving on the right shoulder of the road (where the rumble strip gives you a massage), someone driving in the center looks like they're on the left.

The right-wing needs to get back on the road where the rest of us are.

The Great State of Delaware

The new Delaware replacement for Joe Biden's Senate Seat will be the cochair of his transition team, Ted Kaufman, who has pledged to step down after two years, so that there could be an election for a new replacement.

Part of that makes sense in that it allows for a regular election for that important Senate seat. But there is speculation that Biden's son Beau, who will be returning from his tour of duty in Iraq as a JAG in a year, will run for that seat and that that is really what's going on here.

Question: isn't any state too small if the present Senator can maneuver things so that his son can probably win? They say we don't have a monarchy or an aristocracy, but when you consider how much power we give Presidents and how we treat Senate seats, it makes you wonder if we're any more democratic than Britain was when we declared our independence.


This is pretty cool footage of a meteorite (natural or manmade?) hitting earth.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Musical Interlude: Michael Jackson

I know Michael Jackson is a bit of a strange person, but he is a terrific musician and performer. Here is one of my favorite songs, Man in the Mirror, with great lyrics and some wonderful videoclips as well.

The Economic Crisis in a Paragraph

An interesting and succinct description of the economic crisis facing us, by Sebastian Mallaby:

The financial crisis has morphed into several simultaneous crises that feed upon each other. The real estate bust crippled the banks. Crippled banks starved companies of credit. Starved companies laid workers off. Laid-off workers defaulted on mortgages, deepening the bust in real estate. By a similar process, crippled financial institutions stopped making auto loans, which caused people to stop buying cars, which pushed the carmakers to the brink. If the carmakers go down, a whole new round of job losses and mortgage defaults will slam into the financial system.

It becomes clearer than ever that allowing the real estate bubble was a huge mistake. But everyone was on the take, so nobody was much interested in looking ahead and seeing the risks. This is why greed, the supposed basis of free-market economics, cannot be allowed to control the economic system. It has to be someone looking out for the larger good and the future, i.e. independent regulators willing to blow the whistle.

China: Number One Friend

Fareed Zakaria argues that the only way to save our economy--and thus have the ability to do the other big things Obama wants to do--is to maintain our good economic relationship with China:

Everyone agrees now that Washington needs to spend its way out of this recession, to ensure that it doesn't turn into a depression. Economists on both the left and right agree that a massive fiscal stimulus is needed and that for now, we shouldn't be worrying about deficits. But to run up these deficits -- which could total somewhere between $1 trillion and $1.5 trillion, or between 7 and 11 percent of gross domestic product -- America has to get someone to buy its debt. And the only country with the cash to do so is China.

Protecting Obama

This is what is protecting Obama these days.

The Big Picture

About Obama, one has to keep in mind the big picture, just like he does.

Fix our energy/climate change problem, by moving us away from foreign fossil fuels toward clean domestic sources. Reverse the outsourcing and downsizing of our manufacturing base. Fix health care, by expanding coverage while restraining costs. Be more a leader for cooperation and peace around the world. Reach a Middle East Peace. Get out of Iraq. Isolate and destroy Islamic Radicalism, while at the same time winning the hearts of reasonable Muslims world-wide. Deal with an embittered Russia.

If he has an economy that has simply stopped functioning, none of this will be achievable. And of course, all of this assumes that the federal government can solve these problems, which is quite a debatable proposition, to put it mildly.

If he can accomplish even a couple of those goals, there should be a new monument in his honor erected on the Washington Mall!

In any case, let's give him the benefit of the doubt on all the little stuff, shall we, like staffing his Cabinet and White House.

Dependent Again

Apparently, Hillary Clinton's hesitation about becoming Secretary of State has to do with the end of her political independence that she has enjoyed since becoming Senator. Prior to that, she was politically dependent upon her husband, and now she would be again dependent, this time on the man who beat her for the Presidency.

Friends said the potential loss of her independence, hard won by her election to the Senate from New York in 2000, caused Clinton to waver last week as she considered Obama's offer. But advisers said the discussions got back on track after he promised she would have considerable input on staffing decisions and plenty of access to him.


Robert Kuttner is concerned that Obama's economic team--Geither, Summers, Orszag, Furman--are a bunch of retread proteges of Robert Rubin, Treasury Secretary for Bill Clinton and the point man in the Citigroup debacle. So am I, as I wrote yesterday. Something is not making sense to me here.

Obama is intelligent enough to reach his own conclusions, and they are likely to produce far more heartburn for conservative Republicans than for those who worked so hard to elect him. But it would be helpful if his senior economic team included even one person who was not a member of the same centrist club - a Joseph Stiglitz, a Jamie Galbraith, a Jared Bernstein or a Sheila Bair.

Have all these economists learned the lessons of the 90's, so as to avoid them in the future? I had always heard that Obama was impressed with the so-called Chicago School of Economics, famous for its laissez-faire preferences. But it is also hard to believe that he hasn't seen the downside of this economic philosophy that has become so obvious this year. I guess we shall see. As with Hillary Clinton, I'm willing to initially give Obama the benefit of the doubt.
Update: I just found this column on the change of heart by many of Obama's advisors on their 90's thinking. That's good.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Clinton at State

Andrew Sullivan's take on Clinton at the State Department:

Earlier this year, it seemed a good idea to plonk her on the ticket to defang the threat. That would have followed the “team of rivals” concept that Obama wanted to purloin from Lincoln. It would also have given the Clintons an independent claim on power. By winning without them and even, in some measure, despite them, Obama can now bring the Clintons into the power structure while retaining clear dominance. The State Department appointment is prestigious enough not to be condescending, yet also keeps Clinton off the Washington circuit more than any other position. She’ll be on a plane or abroad a great deal. Extra bonus: Bill will just love that. Sending his wife to the Middle East is the ex-president’s idea of a good time.

There’s also the small question of Iraq. Think of the appointment this way: “You voted for this bloody war, Hillary; you can end it.”

Health Care Reform

In an interesting article on health care myths, authors Shannon Brownlee and Ezekiel Emanuel place the blame for our sky-rocketing health care costs:

Most of the relentless rise can be attributed to the expansion of hospitals and other health-care sectors and the rapid adoption of expensive new technologies -- new drugs, devices, tests and procedures. Unfortunately, only a fraction of all that new stuff offers dramatically better outcomes.

They claim there are models out there for doing it right--the Cleveland Clinic, the Mayo Clinic, etc. This is something we can do and must do, as a part of the national reform ahead.

Rubin Screwups

In a major article on the rise and fall of Citigroup, the NYT highlights the role of Robert Rubin in making possible the problems there.

...Citigroup’s woes are emblematic of the haphazard management and rush to riches that enveloped all of Wall Street. All across the banking business, easy profits and a booming housing market led many prominent financiers to overlook the dangers they courted.

The bank’s downfall was years in the making and involved many in its hierarchy, particularly [CEO Charles] Prince and Robert E. Rubin, an influential director and senior adviser. Citigroup insiders and analysts say that Mr. Prince and Mr. Rubin played pivotal roles in the bank’s current woes, by drafting and blessing a strategy that involved taking greater trading risks to expand its business and reap higher profits.

When he was Treasury secretary during the Clinton administration, Mr. Rubin helped loosen Depression-era banking regulations that made the creation of Citigroup possible by allowing banks to expand far beyond their traditional role as lenders and permitting them to profit from a variety of financial activities. During the same period he helped beat back tighter oversight of exotic financial products, a development he had previously said he was helpless to prevent.

This is the same Robert Rubin who has sat on the economic advisors for Obama. Granted that he would know how the problems came about (he helped create them!), do we really want Mr. Rubin trying to solve the economic crisis? Wouldn't that be like asking Don Rumsfeld to come back to help us get out of Iraq?


In today's column, Tom Friedman sounds almost hysterical about the economic crisis. He wants the Obama team to basically take over immediately, somehow, and hit the crisis with a big, big sledge hammer, because if this doesn't happen, the bottom could fall out and we could find ourselves in a depression.

I don't know who he's talking to, but he is for sure a well-connected journalist and intellectual. So that he feels this way is one scary fact confronting us in the coming days and weeks.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Fake Empire

"Tiptoe through our shiny cities
with our diamond slippers on.......
We're half awake in a fake empire."

--"Fake Empire" by The National

Between 1980 and 2008, America experienced growth in wealth far beyond anything ever dreamed of by other societies in other times. The extent of our fortune is even more clearly viewed through the rearview mirror, brought into sharper relief as we awake blinking in the dawn of a poorer era.

We tend to think that what caused the last twenty five years of explosive growth were American attributes like our superior capitalist system; our ingenuity; or perhaps American exceptionalism. These things played a part, no doubt. But, as John Judis explains,the kickstart to this explosive growth was actually an informal agreement between the U.S. and foreign countries like Japan and China that began in the early 1980s, an arrangement that has come to be called Bretton Woods II. Basically, foreign countries loaned us money so that we could buy their stuff. According to Judis, this arrangement came about during a time when the American economy was coming off a bad decade and was looking grim for the foreseeable future:

"The Reagan administration faced a no- win situation: Try reducing the trade deficit by reducing the budget deficit, and you'd stifle growth; but try stimulating the economy by increasing the deficit, and you'd have to keep interest rates high in order to sell an adequate amount of Treasury debt, which would also stifle growth. At that point, Japan, along with Saudi Arabia and other opec nations, came to the rescue."

In simple English, this foreign rescue allowed the United States government to run huge deficits. We could keep our taxes low while still spending a lot, providing social security, medicare, and the funds for a global military umbrella. And China, Japan and Saudi Arabia would make up the difference in our budget with loans.

And thus was the American economy saved not by the myth of our own greatness, but by the investment of the Japanese, Chinese and Saudi Arabia. Thus was the boom of the last thirty years built on fiscal irresponsibility; in fact, one could say the boom would have been impossible without it.

But, just as one would think, a boom built on fiscal irresponsibility was unsustainable in the end. The other key cog in the global wealth machine was the American consumer. With our taxes kept low over the last thirty years, the American consumer could afford to buy up enough stuff from the rest of the world to keep the whole Bretton Woods II feedback loop going--other countries could then afford to finance our deficits, keeping our taxes low, allowing us to buy more stuff, etc etc.

And that brings us back to the present day and what I see as the largest source of our troubles going forward: The American consumer is tapped out. We are up to our eyeballs in debt. We've seen the value of our houses and 401k's plummet, and we aren't likely to be stimulating anything anytime soon. And that's why my economic view is rather pessimistic going forward. Without the American consumer driving the world economy, will the Bretton Woods II system break down? What will replace the American consumer as the new engine for the global economy? Whatever it is, the transition will not be pleasant, nor will it provide the same level of material abundance we have become used to.

Many of us were lucky (or unlucky) enough to be born into an era of unbelievable wealth that we came to see as commonplace, as our birthright. The next generation may look back in wonder that we all lived like kings, basking in the wealth of our fake empire.

Dead Duck

Well, as you can see, I haven't posted anything today. I've had to work on a sermon and a funeral eulogy, so my mental faculties (and my fingers) have been kept busy.

I did watch Joe Nocera on Bill Moyers last night. He's a respected observer of the business scene and was scathing toward what the Treasury is doing with the bailout. He said the utter lack of transparency with what is happening with the billions of dollars that are being given to the banks and AIG is a real scandel. He concluded by saying that Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has basically thrown in the towel and isn't going to do anymore.

So we have a lame duck administration that is, for all intents and purposes, a dead duck administration, with feathers blowing in the wind. A fine ending to a dandy eight years.

Friday, November 21, 2008

A Wonderful Thanksgiving Interview

If you have a little time, listen to this wonderful interview with Maya Angelou on the Diane Rehm Show. (After you click on the above link, then click on either the 'Real Audio' or 'Windows Media' link next to the title of the Maya Angelou program, and it will open and play on your computer.)

You will definitely be blessed, I promise.


Conservative NYT columnist David Brooks gives the Obama transition effort an A+ today, and says that the new administration so far is pragmatic, professional, non-ideological, creative, non-partisan and highly intelligent.

After all the dismal economic news, perhaps there still is hope!


Also on the economy, Nobel-prize winning economist Paul Krugman writes in the NYT that the inaction on the economy because of this power-vacuum now occurring between the end of the Bush administration and the beginning of the Obama administration does not bode well.

There is, however, another and more disturbing parallel between 2008 and 1932 — namely, the emergence of a power vacuum at the height of the crisis. The interregnum of 1932-1933, the long stretch between the election and the actual transfer of power, was disastrous for the U.S. economy, at least in part because the outgoing administration had no credibility, the incoming administration had no authority and the ideological chasm between the two sides was too great to allow concerted action. And the same thing is happening now.

He concludes:

But nothing is happening on the policy front that is remotely commensurate with the scale of the economic crisis. And it’s scary to think how much more can go wrong before Inauguration Day.

Fasten your seat belts. This could be a very bumpy ride. Let's hope the air bags are working.


Somewhere a couple of days ago I saw a video of an economist by the name of Peter Schiff on CNBC, trying to make the case over the last two years that we were headed for a bear market and a severe contraction of the economy, against other cheerleaders of the existing bull market and housing bubble. Looking back, he seemed so prescient while the others looked so, well, stupid.

Here is an audio interview with Dr. Schiff that you might find enlightening for more help in understanding why we are in the economic mess we're in. I don't necessarily agree with all that he says, but it is intriguing. Go to the bottom of the linked page and click on 'download' (make sure your speakers are on).

Popping Bubbles

Here is a very unpopular idea. We have in America too many colleges and universities, too many professors and too many students. When you compare our higher education industry with that in other advanced industrialized countries, it is so obvious that we have a college 'bubble' that is probably going to burst along with the already deflated housing bubble. Result: a lot of empty, abandoned college buildings and even whole campuses. What else are they good for?

It won't be Carolina, Duke, State, Wake Forest, and Davidson that go down the tubes. They're safe, along with other government schools, like UNC-G and Appalachian. It's going to be the small, liberal-arts colleges like the one I attended in Pennsylvania and the hundreds like them all around the country. Their endowments, such as they are, are shinking, along with the ability of most of their students and families to pay the high tuition and costs associated with private education. They are on the edge and the trendlines in the economy right now are all against them. And the government can't save them all.

Oh, and did I say that health care is also a bubble? I've never seen anyone else describe it as such, but where have you seen all the construction taking place the last five years, other than exurban housing developments? Colleges and hospitals. And we simply can't afford all the money currently going into health care. Period.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Reasons for our Economic Straits

This very readable article in the American Conservative magazine does as good a job as any I've seen recently in laying out the reasons for our current economic problems. Check it out.

A Permanent Resolution of the Middle East Stalemate

Some are seeing Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel as Israel's man in the Obama administration. It is true that Emmanuel's ties to Israel are strong, his father having been an Israeli's physician and Zionist. But it seems to me that Obama's interest is in achieving a permanent settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian problem, which is going to take a tough, tough set of negotiations and enormous pressure on the Israelies to accomplish. I would suggest that you've got to have someone like Emmanuel (and even Clinton) to get this done. It's the only way to get the Israelies to make the concessions and pullback that will be needed to establish a viable Palestinian State, while also ensuring a viable and secure State of Israel.

Ehud Olmert, the recently resigned Israeli Prime Minister, came out with some quite radical statements recently along these lines:

At the moment, I'd like to do some soul-searching on behalf of the nation of Israel.... In a few years, my grandchildren will ask what their grandfather did, what kind of country we have bequeathed them. I said it five years ago, in an interview with Yedioth Ahronoth, and I'll say it to you today: we have a window of opportunity—a short amount of time before we enter an extremely dangerous situation—in which to take a historic step in our relations with the Palestinians and a historic step in our relations with the Syrians. In both instances, the decision we have to make is the decision we've spent forty years refusing to look at with our eyes open.

We must make these decisions, and yet we are not prepared to say to ourselves, "Yes, this is what we must do." We must reach an agreement with the Palestinians, meaning a withdrawal from nearly all, if not all, of the [occupied] territories. Some percentage of these territories would remain in our hands, but we must give the Palestinians the same percentage [of territory elsewhere]—without this, there will be no peace.

We need to make a decision. This decision is difficult, awful, a decision that contradicts our natural instincts, our deepest yearnings, our collective memories, and the prayers of the nation of Israel for the past two thousand years.

Obama knows what he is doing. I could of course be wrong in this, but I'm willing to bet I'm not. We could soon see peace in Israel/Palestine for the first time in 60 years.

Health Insurance Industry Sees Handwriting on the Wall

It looks as if the health insurance industry sees universal health coverage on its way and is getting on board (so that it's not thrown overboard). According to the New Republic, the industry has offered to cover everyone without discriminating based on pre-existing conditions and at one rate, rather than increasing rates as we age or get sick.

Well, it's about time. Change is on the way. The appointment of Tom Daschle as Secretary of Health and Human Services, as well as 'health czar', also points to the fact that health care reform will be a top item in Obama's first administration.

The United States is so far behind the rest of the industrialized world in providing enlightened health care. Thank God, that may be about to end.

The Caretaker

I want to welcome the Caretaker, a.k.a. Nathan Lindquist, my eldest child, as a contributor to the Great Awakening. He got me started in blogging by firing up The Yip Blog back in September, to which he invited me to contribute. I soon dominated his blog by volume because of my zest for this kind of writing, so I decided that I'd better start my own blog. Hence the Rude Awakening, now renamed the Great Awakening (in honor of Barack Obama's election).

Nathan is an insightful political and social observer, and so I've invited him to join me in writing for this blog, to give it a little diversity while yet maintaining its overall purpose and feel. He is currently living far away from his father and mother in Colorado where he works as a city planner.

His first post on the Great Awakening is here. Welcome, Caretaker!

Common Sense on the Big Three Auto

Steven Pearlstine, business columnist of the Washington Post, writes that Obama has offered a sensible solution to the Big Three Auto companies financial problems:

Then, in steps Obama with the utterly reasonable proposition, delivered in a television interview, that while the failure of General Motors, Chrysler and Ford posed as much of a risk to the economy as AIG and Freddie Mac, he wasn't about to provide three uncompetitive companies with a bridge loan to nowhere. As a condition of his support, he would require that all the constituencies -- the shareholders, creditors, workers, pensioners, managers and dealers -- make the necessary concessions needed to restructure these companies and put them on sustainable, competitive footing.

So what would such a rescue look like?

Several weeks ago, I suggested that the only way the government should get involved in a bailout was as part of a "prepackaged" bankruptcy that would result in a major restructuring of the automakers' finances and operations. Going through the bankruptcy process is a necessary legal step to wipe out the interests of current shareholders, replace failed executives and directors, force creditors to accept less than they are owed, abrogate labor contracts, reduce pension obligations and override state dealership laws. And by negotiating many of the details ahead of time, a "prepackaged" bankruptcy could be completed in a matter weeks or months, reducing the risk of scaring away people from buying new cars.

Just the kind of centrist solutions I was hoping for.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Good Cop, Bad Cop

Hello all, and thanks to the Chronicler for the invitation to blog in this space.

Its been two weeks since the election. For me the time has been spent letting new realities sink in as old frames of reference fade away. For someone who is only old enough to have cared about politics in the Bush era, it takes some time to overcome the reflexive wincing at every governmental action and presidential pronouncement. Its a strange feeling to think "oh hey, the president is on TV tonight, I want to catch that." Its an enormous relief, upon hearing of Obama's latest political move, to understand what he's doing and feel that it has a chance to work. And even two weeks later, its an enormous sense of pride and amazement that my new state, Colorado, and my home-state, North Carolina, both went blue this year (go heels!). Especially in NC, its hard to believe that it actually happened.

So I'd like to start off with my major impression of Obama's emerging presidential style. I think the best way to sum it up is: a good cop surrounded by bad cops.

Obama is the good cop to end all good cops. He's got a smile bigger than Julia Roberts. He has spent the last two years building up his brand as a uniter, as a devoted family man, and as an intelligent, progressive yet personally conservative man (it helps that all these things are true). He has international papers already declaring him president of the world. Obama has Al-Queda worried that his popularity in the Muslim world will undermine their message of the U.S. as the great Satan. And after Obama's forgiveness of Lieberman, outreach to McCain, tapping of the moderate Rahm Emmanuel, talks with Hillary for Secretary of State, and potential retention of Republican Bob Gates at Defense, some conservatives have started thinking that, so far, they have more reason to be happy with Obama than liberals do.

Its all in a fortnight's business for the world's best good cop. But as anyone who has ever watched cop shows or the Big Lebowski or worked at a school knows, every good cop needs a bad cop. Every Dude needs a Walter. Every lovable teacher needs a take-no-crap vice principal.

Luckily for Obama, he's smart enough to know this. And he's got a bunch of bad cops watching his back.

First off, Rahm Emmanuel is by all accounts a foul-mouthed cuss of a politician. And his brother was the model for Ari on the HBO show Entourage, a character who is as profane as they come, but is also absolutely loyal to his friends and family and stops at NOTHING to get what is best for them. As Obama's chief of staff, I'd expect Emmanuel to move heaven and earth to do what Obama wants.

Second, Hillary as Secretary of State (if it happens). I've gone back and forth about whether this makes sense or not, but ultimately decided that Hillary will serve the same bad cop role on the world stage that Emmanuel will on the domestic front. Remember during the primaries that Hillary very publicly opposed talking with Iran and refused to apologize for supporting the Iraq War. If Ahmadinejad or Muqtada Sadr had started thinking that Obama was going to be a pushover, Hillary's selection will disabuse them of that notion.

To say that we are entering a difficult time in the world is a giant understatement. These times will demand unprecedented cooperation on a global scale, and for that task I am enormously thankful we have Obama to show the world American leadership that they can respect again. But we will also need tough, mean, take-no-crap people to herd everyone in the same direction, and make sure that people realize that there are consequences for stepping out of line. I'm glad Obama's team has both.

The Real GOP Problem

Kathleen Parker, the heretical conservative who dared to criticize Sarah Palin, writes about the real GOP problem--the religious right--here.

As Republicans sort out the reasons for their defeat, they likely will overlook or dismiss the gorilla in the pulpit. Three little letters, great big problem: G-O-D....

To be more specific, the evangelical, right-wing, oogedy-boogedy branch of the GOP is what ails the erstwhile conservative party and will continue to afflict and marginalize its constituents if reckoning doesn't soon cometh.

Simply put: Armband religion is killing the Republican Party. And, the truth -- as long as we're setting ourselves free -- is that if one were to eavesdrop on private conversations among the party intelligentsia, one would hear precisely that.

Al Qaeda Insults Obama

The number two leader of Al Qaeda insulted Obama by calling him a 'house negro.' Get ready to rumble.

The Real Bill Ayers

The infamous Bill Ayers was interviewed yesterday on NPR's Fresh Air. Check it out here, to find out what he actually thinks, instead of the caricature of him from his political enemies. I think it is only fair.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Recession Victims

David Brooks writes in the NYT about one result of this recession. A lengthy quote below:

This recession will probably have its own social profile. In particular, it’s likely to produce a new social group: the formerly middle class. These are people who achieved middle-class status at the tail end of the long boom, and then lost it. To them, the gap between where they are and where they used to be will seem wide and daunting.

In the months ahead, the members of the formerly middle class will suffer career reversals. Paco Underhill, the retailing expert, tells me that 20 percent of the mall storefronts could soon be empty. That fact alone means that thousands of service-economy workers will experience the self-doubt that goes with unemployment.

They will suffer lifestyle reversals. Over the past decade, millions of Americans have had unprecedented access to affordable luxuries, thanks to brands like Coach, Whole Foods, Tiffany and Starbucks. These indulgences were signs of upward mobility. But these affordable luxuries will no longer be so affordable. Suddenly, the door to the land of the upscale will slam shut for millions of Americans.

The members of the formerly middle class will suffer housing reversals. The current mortgage crisis is having its most concentrated effect on people on the lowest rungs of middle-class life — people who live in fast-growing exurbs in Florida and Nevada that are now rife with foreclosures; people who just moved out of their urban neighborhoods and made it to modest, older suburbs in California and Michigan. Suddenly, the home of one’s own is gone, and it’s back to the apartment complex.

These reversals are bound to produce alienation and a political response. If you want to know where the next big social movements will come from, I’d say the formerly middle class.

A My Lai A Month

Below is the last paragraph of an account of atrocities conducted during the Vietnam War by the Nineth Infantry Division. A disturbing reminder of the real costs of war:

To this day, Vietnamese civilians in the Mekong Delta recall the horrors of Operation Speedy Express and the countless civilians killed to drive up body count. Army records indicate that no Ninth Infantry Division troops, let alone commanders, were ever court-martialed for killing civilians during the operation.


George Will answers the question about what to do about the Big Three Auto companies:

The answer? Do nothing that will delay bankrupt companies from filing for bankruptcy protection, so that improvident labor contracts can be unraveled, allowing the companies to try to devise plausible business models. Instead, advocates of a "rescue" propose extending to Detroit the government's business model for the nation -- redistributing wealth from the successful to the failed, an implausible formula for prosperity.

It makes sense, as does the opposite case that Jeffrey Sachs makes here. I'm glad I don't have to make that decision.

Not Hillary

David Ignatius makes the case against Hillary at State here. I don't know what to think about it. However, I have to give Obama the benefit of the doubt.

Lieberman Stays

So Lieberman keeps his committee post and stays in the Democratic caucus. Although it would have felt good to 'punish' him for his steadfast support for McCain and criticism of Obama, longterm this is almost surely the best result, as Obama seeks to build a powerful coalition in Congress to help him get his agenda through.


Monday, November 17, 2008

Musical Interlude: Phil Collins

My favorite Phil Collins song.


Norm Scheiber writes in the New Republic about the kind of aides that Obama likes:

But, far from an aberration, the Biden pick reflects a side of Obama that's often overlooked: His taste in confidants runs toward the strong-willed and direct. Thanks to his writer's sensibility, Obama tends to view such specimens with anthropological fascination. Lest anyone forget, he chose as his pastor Jeremiah Wright, a man who rivals Laurence Olivier in his flair for the dramatic. These days, one of Obama's most trusted aides is a salty Southerner named Robert Gibbs, who first signed on as a communications strategist for the 2004 Senate race. Gibbs is known for his unyielding bluntness with the boss. One day at the outset of his Senate term, Obama sidled up to Gibbs and asked him to name the president of Tanzania. "Who the fuck cares?" was Gibbs's response, according to Obama biographer David Mendell. Obama began to laugh.

Obama, in fact, seems to crave such pushback. His years as a law professor have made Socratic dialogue his chief intellectual reflex. "The most awkward moment on a conference call is when he says, 'Okay, anybody disagree?' and there's just silence," says the aide. "He wants to make sure he's fully explored the issue before we move on." One of Obama's most valued economic advisers in recent months has been former Fed chairman Paul Volcker, partly because he opposed a stimulus package long after the rest of the economic team endorsed it. (Volcker eventually came around.)

What's In a Name

What's his name again? Barack Hussein Obama. That's the name of the next President of the United States. Barack Hussein Obama.

It blows the mind.

California Burning

The video images of the fires sweeping California are horrendous. This feels apocalyptic, whether it is or not. Nobody is making the connection with global warming that I can see. But it sure gives one a sense of urgency that we've got to address that issue, or this kind of disaster (and others like it) could become more widespread.

Rumblings in the Roman Catholic Church

If you want a little more insight into the issues roiling the Roman Catholic Church these days, check out this essay in the WaPO. It's worth your time.

Save the Auto Industry

Economist Jeffry Sachs makes a persuasive case for a private-public partnership with the auto industry, including an immediate loan, to prepare for the changes ahead. This sounds more sensible than the alternative, which is to allow the auto industry to simply collapse because of laissez-faire ideological principles (that I heard Senator Shelby, for example, argue yesterday on one of the talk shows).

We face an unprecedented financial calamity, energy crisis and environmental threat. A vibrant, growing U.S. automobile industry should play an essential role in solving all three. The technologies that will win the day are in sight; industry has already made important advances. A partnership with government is vital and should begin this week.

Tough Concessions Needed

The US United Auto Workers (UAW) union has ruled out concessions - at least for the time being - to help rescue the ailing Detroit-based car industry. Ron Gettelfinger, the union president, said at the weekend that "the focus has to be on the economy as a whole as opposed to a UAW contract"...."We're here not because of what the auto industry has done", Mr Gettelfinger said during a rare press conference. "We're here because of what has happened to the economy."

Excuse me? Listen, I'm sympathetic to unions, because I think workers deserve to have someone speaking on their behalf, or they get ripped off by those who run things. But the unions also have to be sensible and willing to compromise, or bankrupcy is what happens. The days of the defined benefit pension and over-the-top health care coverage is over for private business. (My denomination sensibly went to a defined contribution pension 26 years ago.)

In Robert Samuelson's column in the WaPo, he argues that tough concessions should be made by all three components of any industry--management, investors, and labor--in exchange for federal assistance, and this should be true for any industry (including banking). This sounds right to me.

The Real McCain Returns From Hiding

It would seem to be a win-win for McCain and Obama to meet to talk things over in Chicago today. McCain gets to return to his pre-2006 persona (before his trip to fundamentalist Liberty University) of honorable and moderate Republican who thinks for himself, while Obama gets a potential ally on many issues in the Senate.

No Torture and No Gitmo

On '60 Minutes' last evening, Obama pledged to close Gitmo and end the practice of torture, all by the use of executive order. Not a bad start to reclaiming our moral standing in the world.

I know, I know, Bush conservatives reading this blog (if any there be) don't CARE about our 'moral standing' in the world. But this conservative cares, because morality MATTERS in more than just sexual issues.

The Wild Wordsmith of Wasilla

For those who feel about Sarah Palin the way I feel about her, here is a wonderful column by the one and only Dick Cavett. Then read this interesting blog entry from an Alaskan writer about her governor.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Japan Doesn't Like Obama (or the U.S.) Very Much

One of our U.S. allies isn't very happy about the election of Barack Obama. Read about Japan's concerns here.

Islamic Radicals Preferred McCain

David Ignatius describes why Islamic jihadists are very upset that Barack Obama has won the U.S. election. This explains why Obama was the best option for fighting Islamic radicalism:

The upsetting news for our imaginary jihadist is the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States. This wasn't supposed to happen, in al-Qaeda's playbook. Its aim was to draw the "far enemy" (meaning America) ever deeper onto the battlefields of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Instead, the jihadists must cope with a president-elect who promises to get out of Iraq and whose advisers are talking about negotiating with the Taliban. And to top it off, the guy's middle name is Hussein.

Before the election, the radical Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradhawi even issued a fatwa supporting
John McCain: "Personally, I would prefer for the Republican candidate, McCain, to be elected. This is because I prefer the obvious enemy who does not hypocritically [conceal] his hostility toward you . . . to the enemy who wears a mask [of friendliness]."

Obama makes the jihadists nervous because he is an appealing new face whose ascension undermines the belief that Islam and the West are locked in an inescapable clash of civilizations. "The Democrats kill you slowly without you noticing it. . . . They are like a snake whose touch is not felt until its poison enters your body," observes Qaradhawi.

"Even in the Arab world, Obama is very popular," explains Jean-Pierre Filiu, a French scholar of Islam. "The global jihadists leaned toward McCain because they hoped the confrontation would get worse."

Great White Shark

Tom Friedman writes in the NYT about the economic situation :

Right now we need to throw everything we can at this problem to make sure this recession doesn’t spiral down into a depression. This is no time for half-measures. If you want to know where we are right now, rent the movie “Jaws.” We’re at that moment when Roy Scheider first sets eyes on the Great White Shark and comes back and says to the skipper, with eyes wide with fear: “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Where Does it End?

Ted Turner on the bailout, from an interview in Time:

When I was running CNN we never had any money and I never asked for a bailout. Where does it end? AIG, you know, they need $40 billion more, and we only gave them a hundred billion last week, didn't we. It's just ridiculous. And now General Motors. They said we're going to give them $25 billiong to retool. Retool what? They'll run through that money so fast they'll be back wanting more. We can't keep every loser alive.

And then listen to this:

[Do you still think Christianity is a "religion for losers?"]

No. That was probably my most unfortunate comment. I apologized for it. I apologized for a lot of things that I've said....I didn't mean to hurt anybody's feelings with that, but it did hurt people's feelings and I'm sorry.

Sounds like a new, humbler Ted Turner.


This is my very favorite scene from Jesus Christ Superstar, called Gethsemene. It always sends chills up my back and brings tears to my eyes.


If you've never seen the Overture from Jesus Christ Superstar, watch this:


Have I ever told you that television is, for the most part, a vast wasteland where little of true value can live? Whenever I scan through the channels, I come away feeling like I've been walking through a drainage ditch of sewage. When I do come across an occasional oasis of intelligence and culture, I am so very grateful.

The Stupidity of Wall Street

Now here is an honest former Wall Street investment banker:

To this day, the willingness of a Wall Street investment bank to pay me hundreds of thousands of dollars to dispense investment advice to grownups remains a mystery to me. I was 24 years old, with no experience of, or particular interest in, guessing which stocks and bonds would rise and which would fall. The essential function of Wall Street is to allocate capital—to decide who should get it and who should not. Believe me when I tell you that I hadn’t the first clue.

I’d never taken an accounting course, never run a business, never even had savings of my own to manage. I stumbled into a job at Salomon Brothers in 1985 and stumbled out much richer three years later, and even though I wrote a book about the experience, the whole thing still strikes me as preposterous—which is one of the reasons the money was so easy to walk away from. I figured the situation was unsustainable. Sooner rather than later, someone was going to identify me, along with a lot of people more or less like me, as a fraud. Sooner rather than later, there would come a Great Reckoning when Wall Street would wake up and hundreds if not thousands of young people like me, who had no business making huge bets with other people’s money, would be expelled from finance.

Somewhere I read recently that a full half of the 2006 graduating class of Harvard University went to work on Wall Street, where they could make their quick millions, buying and selling stocks and bonds with other people's money. Bet that won't happen this coming spring.

Truth to Conservative Power

George Will tries to make sense of the 'socialism' label being thrown around in the campaign, and then he says this:

Hyperbole is not harmless; careless language bewitches the speaker's intelligence. And falsely shouting "socialism!" in a crowded theater such as Washington causes an epidemic of yawning. This is the only major industrial society that has never had a large socialist party ideologically, meaning candidly, committed to redistribution of wealth. This is partly because Americans are an aspirational, not an envious, people. It is also because the socialism we do have is the surreptitious socialism of the strong, e.g., sugar producers represented by their Washington hirelings.

In America, socialism is un-American. Instead, Americans merely do rent-seeking -- bending government for the benefit of private factions. The difference is in degree, including the degree of candor. The rehabilitation of conservatism cannot begin until conservatives are candid about their complicity in what government has become.

Will speaks truth to power here: the power of conservative elites to get their government subsidies without having it called 'socialism.'

Jindal as the Future of the GOP?

I watched a little of the Republican Governor's Conference, just to see what silly things Sarah Palin is saying now. I mostly saw her being edged aside by Governor Perry of Texas, who seemed clearly to want to keep her out of the spotlight.

But I have to say that I was impressed by what little I heard from Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana. He seems more like the future of the Republican Party than Hotlips from Alaska.

Social Fundamentalists

Moderate Republican Christine Todd Whitman argues in the WaPo that the Republican Party will continue losing elections unless it frees itself from its self-imposed captivity to what she calls 'social fundamentalist', those Republicans who "base their votes on such social issues as abortion, gay rights and stem cell research."

These voters tend to be conservative Catholics and Protestants, but they are often joined by rural folk who are culturally conservative, and by working class men who are upset by immigration, feel that their guns are threatened, and hate/fear Muslims. All these together do not make a majority, however. So to the extent these social conservatives get fired up and rowdy, independents and moderates will sprint in the opposite direction, thus ensuring the election of progressive liberals.

Cheap Oil

Gas is now down to under $2 a gallon. It feels good, but don't get too used to it. It's going to go back up before too long.

And that has to happen, because we've got to wean ourselves off of dependence on foreign oil, for economic, security, and environmental reasons. And that will only happen if alternative forms of energy are price-competitive with foreign oil. Somehow that has to happen!

Pardons for War Crimes

Will President Bush issue blanket pardons for his key administration officials before he leaves office, protecting them from persecution for war crimes? I'm betting that he does.

Twilight Between the Night and the Dawn

We are in a twilight period now, between the lame-duck administration of President Bush and the new administration of President-Elect Obama. Bush doesn't really have the clout to govern right now, except in the most obvious and urgent matters, and Obama doesn't have the power or the authority to do anything, except issue statements.

It's a bit unsettling therefore, because the economy continues to collapse in slow-mo. Every day brings more reports of companies going bankrupt, massive layoffs, increases in housing foreclosures, etc. Yet even the bailout plan is not going well, let alone any other plan to address the full range of economic issues.

This long period of time between the election and the inauguration is making less and less sense. Why don't we think about reducing it to about 30 days or less. Remember the inauguration used to be in March, if I'm not mistaken. It's been changed before, and we could (and should) think about doing it again.

Dragging the Auto Industry into the 21st Century

Bob Herbert makes the case in the NYT against letting the Big Three Auto Makers go under. Then he writes this balanced and wise statement about it:

This whole matter needs some intensive thought. At the moment, Washington has tremendous leverage over the failing auto industry. The government should craft a rescue plan that is both tough and very, very smart. That means dragging the industry (kicking and screaming, no doubt) into the 21st century by insisting on ironclad commitments to design and develop vehicles that make sense economically and that serve the nation’s long-term energy security requirements.

The potential collapse of the Big Three is certainly one of the most scary possibilities out there right now, given the number of American jobs that hinge on the auto industry. This in turn would drag so much else down. Yikes. I need my father around right now to help me learn how to live during a depression.

Four Reasons to Pick Hillary

Gail Collins of the NYT gives four reasons why Hillary should be Secretary of State:

1. She would not let the vice president run our foreign policy. Joe Biden is no Dick Cheney, but we just do not want to go there again. We have scars.
2. Obama could live out his fantasy of following the Abraham Lincoln model and filling his cabinet with a team of rivals without having to make Sarah Palin secretary of commerce.
3. Clinton already has a supply of pantsuits sufficient to get her through six months of peace negotiations in the Middle East without coming home for a change of clothes.
4. She might do a terrific job.

I would add to this tongue-in-cheek list that it would turn Obama and Clinton from rivals to allies, even more than has already happened.


I'm pleased to hear that Hillary Clinton is being considered for Secretary of State. I think that is an excellent position for her. She will bring instant credibility to that position, and with her intellectual firepower and knowledge of how things work in the executive branch, she'll be able to make an instant difference in our foreign policy. And Lord knows that we need that desperately. I hope it works out.

Been Busy

So sorry, dear readers, that I haven't posted anything since Thursday. I had to be out of town to do a funeral for former church member yesterday, and when I got back in last evening, I was quite done in. And this morning, I've been involved with other things. But I will be getting back to it soon.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Counting All The Votes

What is it with Alaska not having counted tens of thousands of ballots yet? Why can't absentee and early ballots be counted early by election day? Is that asking too much? Is their lunch break up there just way too long or what? Do they only work during daylight (which is very brief these days)?

Election Withdrawal

Gail Collins says that "Americans are going through election withdrawal". And I feel it. Finding things to blog about can be tough these days. And we keep going back to the election well, with pieces about Sarah Palin, etc. We will have to move on one of these days.

I am so ready for the new administration to take office and to get the present one behind us.

Impeach Now

'Impeach Obama Now' groups are springing up on the internet. The only problem is, he hasn't taken office yet and thus committed any impeachable acts. Now that is faith...that he will commit an impeacheable 'crime and misdemeanor'.

Somebody needs some medication.

Sense and Nonsense

At the opening luncheon of the Republican Governor's Conference, Tim Pawlenty, Republican governor of Minnesota, had this to say:

"We cannot be a majority governing party when we essentially cannot compete in the Northeast, we are losing our ability to compete in Great Lakes states, we cannot compete on the West Coast, we are increasingly in danger of competing in the mid-Atlantic states, and the Democrats are now winning some of the Western states," Pawlenty said. "That is not a formula for being a majority governing party in this nation."

Sarah Palin skipped the luncheon to do an interview with CNN.

Gloomy Future

The Republican Party is ill situated to serve a changing America, they said. Members make excuses for corruption. The Bush administration and congressional leaders are fiscally irresponsible and have ceded the tax issue -- of all issues -- to the Democrats. Large swaths of the country are off limits to GOP candidates. Republicans have lost the technology advantage, and if they were part of a corporation, "heads would roll." It's going to be worse in 2010.

A vicious attack by James Carville on the Republican Party? The latest 'commentary' by Keith Olberman? No, it's the Republican Governor's conference in Florida, and their assessment of how things are going in their party.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

No Blank Check

Thomas Friedman vents here about the mess in Detroit, and then he recommends this:

“In return for any direct government aid...the board and the management [of G.M.] should go. Shareholders should lose their paltry remaining equity. And a government-appointed receiver — someone hard-nosed and nonpolitical — should have broad power to revamp G.M. with a viable business plan and return it to a private operation as soon as possible. That will mean tearing up existing contracts with unions, dealers and suppliers, closing some operations and selling others and downsizing the company ... Giving G.M. a blank check — which the company and the United Auto Workers union badly want, and which Washington will be tempted to grant — would be an enormous mistake.”

Blank Slate

Andrew Sullivan writes this about Sarah Palin and why she still matters:

Let's be real in a way the national media seems incapable of: this person should never have been placed on a national ticket in a mature democracy. She was incapable of running a town in Alaska competently. The impulsive, unvetted selection of a total unknown, with no knowledge of or interest in the wider world, as a replacement president remains one of the most disturbing events in modern American history. That the press felt required to maintain a facade of normalcy for two months - and not to declare the whole thing a farce from start to finish - is a sign of their total loss of nerve. That the Palin absurdity should follow the two-term presidency of another individual utterly out of his depth in national government is particularly troubling. 46 percent of Americans voted for the possibility of this blank slate as president because she somehow echoed their own sense of religious or cultural "identity". Until we figure out how this happened, we will not be able to prevent it from happening again. And we have to find a way to prevent this from recurring.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Leader of the World

One last thing before I go: does it occur to you that Barack Obama is not just the President-Elect of the United States, but President-Elect of the World. I kid you not. Since America is the natural leader of the world, whoever leads America leads the world. Now that is awesome!

Go, big O!!

To Hendersonville, NC

I'm off to a Methodist clergy retreat in Hendersonville, NC for three days, so I may or may not be blogging during that time. It depends on whether we have internet access there. I think we will, so I'll probably be on, but if not, not.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Climate Crisis

Al Gore reminds us what has to be the top priority for America and the world:

THE inspiring and transformative choice by the American people to elect Barack Obama as our 44th president lays the foundation for another fateful choice that he — and we — must make this January to begin an emergency rescue of human civilization from the imminent and rapidly growing threat posed by the climate crisis.

Here is the good news: the bold steps that are needed to solve the climate crisis are exactly the same steps that ought to be taken in order to solve the economic crisis and the energy security crisis.

Here’s what we can do — now: we can make an immediate and large strategic investment to put people to work replacing 19th-century energy technologies that depend on dangerous and expensive carbon-based fuels with 21st-century technologies that use fuel that is free forever: the sun, the wind and the natural heat of the earth.

Center-Left Country

Frank Rich writes that we're now a center-left country:

We now keep hearing, for instance, that America is “a center-right nation” — apparently because the percentages of Americans who call themselves conservative (34), moderate (44) and liberal (22) remain virtually unchanged from four years ago. But if we’ve learned anything this year, surely it’s that labels are overrated. Those same polls find that more and more self-described conservatives no longer consider themselves Republicans. Americans now say they favor government doing more (51 percent), not less (43) — an 11-point swing since 2004 — and they still overwhelmingly reject the Iraq war. That’s a centrist country tilting center-left, and that’s the majority who voted for Obama.