Thursday, May 28, 2009

Lincoln's Racial Views

According to historian Garry Wills, black historian Henry Louis Gates thinks that Abraham Lincoln had the following three strand in his racial outlook:

(1) There is opposition to slavery, which could (but need not) free him
from racism. (2) There is the belief that blacks are inferior to whites in
intelligence and "civilization." (3) There is the belief that blacks must be
kept apart from whites, so far as that is legally and logistically possible,
which is usually but not necessarily a racist position (some blacks held
it).

Vitamin C and E: To Take or Not

A recent study seemed to show that antioxidants like Vitamins C and E blocked the positive effect of exercise. This could confuse people and cause them to stop taking these valuable supplements.

Here is an article that discusses this study and indicates that it does not necessarily indicate what some have assumed it indicates.

Bureaucrat Unbound

Time Magazine writes about Sec. of Defense Gates, which supports Obama's reasoning in keeping him on:

After a quietly impressive career in government that has spanned more than 30
mostly Republican years, Robert Gates is suddenly seeming almost, well,
charismatic. He reeks authority. He is, according to several sources, the most
respected voice in National Security Council debates. The President is said to
love his unadorned manner. Much of which is attributable to the fact that, in
the self-proclaimed twilight of his public career, Gates has emerged as that
most exotic of Washington species — the bureaucrat unbound, candid and fearless.
He tells members of Congress what he really thinks about their pet programs. He
upends Pentagon priorities, demotes the military-industrial hardware pipeline
and promotes the immediate needs of the troops on the front line. He fires
high-ranking subordinates without muss or controversy — an Air Force secretary
and chief of staff who didn't agree with him on the need to end production of
the F-22 aircraft; the commandant of Walter Reed Army Medical Center, who
presided over disgraceful conditions; even a well-respected general like David
McKiernan, a conventional-warfare specialist unsuited for the asymmetrical
struggle in Afghanistan.

When, in a recent conversation, I noted that he
seemed gleefully outspoken these days, Gates offered a twinkly smile and said,
"What are they going to do, fire me?"

Sullivan on Obama and Gays

Andrew Sullivan writes:

“One of them said, 'Obama keep your promise.’ I thought that’s fair. I
don’t know which promise he was talking about,” - Barack
Obama
mocking gay protesters at a celebrity-packed fundraiser in LA.

Yes, we all know Obama opposes marriage equality. But milking that
opposition for laughs a day after the court ruling upholding Prop 8?

But since he asked, how about an end to the HIV ban, an end to the
military ban and a federal recognition of full civil equality for gay married
couples? Three clear promises. After this quip, by the way, the NYT
reports:
The people in the audience – who paid $30,400 per couple to attend –
laughed as they ate a dinner of roasted tenderloin, grilled organic chicken and
sun choke rosemary mashed potatoes.

And then I remember why I'm not a Democrat.

Ouch! It seems that Obama tends to get into trouble with his attempts at humor. It shows his 'insensitive', cynical side.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Worldview of Religion

I'm reading a book by Huston Smith, the renowned professor of world religions, under whom I studied at Syracuse University in the early '80s. One of his more recent books is entitled Why Religion Matters: The Fate of the Human Spirit in an Age of Disbelief. I ran across this paragraph which sums up well what I've read so far:

If science cannot tell us what (if anything) is outside our universe, what
can? Nothing definitively, but it would be foolish not to draw on
every resource available. Inclusively, things are neither as science says
they are nor as religion says they are. They are as science, and religion,
and philosophy, and art, and common sense, and our deepest intuitions, and our
practiced imaginations say they are. What all of these complementing
resources--with the exception of modern science, which works with a limited
viewfinder--have said about the Big Picture throughout human history has shaken
down into a single, wondrously clear and inspiring worldview. This
worldview, which I consider the winnowed wisdom of the human race, is found
distilled in the world's great, enduring religions. (p. 43)

Torture is Counterproductive

Andrew Sullivan posts an interview with an experienced Air Force interrogator, who persuasively argues against torture, because it is counterproductive to our mission and goals. It shows Dick 'Darth Vader' Cheney to be the blowhard he truly is.

Valkyrie

I watched the new Tom Cruise movie, Valkyrie, over the weekend. I'm not a big Tom Cruise fan, but I really liked this movie. It seemed to be a serious attempt to put on the big screen the true story of an attempt by German army officers to assassinate Hitler and bring WW II to an end. It was moving and thought-provoking, especially regarding how close they came to accomplishing their goal. The German people were not all brainwashed by Hitler, as shown by this film, and some gave their lives attempting to stop him.

The Right Choice

Just so you know, it sounds like Sonia Sotomayor is a great choice for the Supreme Court. Credentialed, experienced, fairly centrist. Summa cum laude at Princeton. Yale Law School. Assistant DA in Manhatten. District Court Judge (appointed by President George H. W. Bush). Federal Appellate Justice for 10 years. Widely respected across the board.

Conservatives think Obama is doing the quota thing by picking a minority woman. Wrong. Why do conservatives think only white men can do this job? If they are credentialed and experienced, what does it matter what their skin color or gender? Simple fairness and balance would seem to argue that with all the white male justices in the past, the next 50 should be minority women!

Calling her a 'Latino racist' just shows how radical the Republican right has become.

Peak Oil: Its Past, Present, and Future

If you haven't seen a good video on the Peak Oil issue, here's one. It also deals some with the 9/11 attack as well. The participants interviewed are articulate, intelligent, persuasive, and they present a position which is interesting, radical, and totally absent from the mainstream media. Don't know if I buy it all, but it's fascinating. Watch it when you have a chance.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The World Turns

Bill Bonner, uber-contrarian, writes in his daily essay:

Yesterday was a holiday in the US. Little news from that quarter. But
while Americans were enjoying their backyard barbecues, the rest of the world
turned."

Obama plans 'leaner' car industry," says the BBC. While most readers
will focus on the last three words of that sentence, we direct your attention to
the first two. The subject is the important part...not the
predicate. That the car industry may or may not get 'leaner' is of little
interest to us. It will do what it needs to do. But that the
president of the United States of America is now creating the business plan for
an automobile company is surely a sign of something big. The world has already
turned...perhaps more than we realize.

It was only a few months ago...we're almost sure...that a private company
figured out for itself how it would compete. If it was well- managed - and lucky
- it would grow. If it made a serious mistake, it would go out of
business...leaving the premises vacant for another entrepreneur. Americans not
only accepted this model, they applauded it. They thought the "free enterprise"
system was the best in the world. They believed it was responsible for their
wealth...their progress...and their place in the world.

Now, they seem to have come to believe something else: that the president
of the United States - an elected politician - should have a direct say in how
individual private enterprises are organized and run.

Why Are You Doing This to Me?


This website always get me laughing. It's a little vulgar, but it is very funny and the animal pictures are so cute.

Conservatism Morphing into Libertarianism?

Andrew Sullivan writes about current American conservatism:

It is becoming even clearer to me since the last election, as some of the
clutter has been swept away. Conservatism has to mean resistance to expansive
government power if it is to endure as anything vaguely coherent as a governing
philosophy. Believing in limited government does not mean loathing all
government; in fact, it means making a smaller government more effective, in
part by limiting its ambitions to what it can effectively do that no other body
can. The resilience of the anti-government thread - even in its least articulate
"tea-partying" variety - and the cogency of this critique in the long-term of
Obama's pragmatic liberalism make a small government Republicanism hard to kill,
however much some would like it.

The problem, however, for such a limited government conservatism, is
foreign policy. It is extremely hard to fit a multi-continent, Iraq and
Afghanistan-occupying war on terror into this rubric. It's just too utopian,
expensive and open-ended.

If you cannot cut taxes, and you will not make a dent on entitlements, then
the next big ticket item is defense. My view is that a successful future
Republicanism will begin to urge a dismantling of the empire and a limiting of
the war on terror just as it will do in the war on drugs. This doesn't mean
isolationism; it means a much more sober view of what a bankrupt America can do
effectively to advance its real interests in the world.

This is going in the direction of current libertarianism, which I'm not sure fits well into Sullivan's British, Burkean kind of conservatism. But it's an interesting evolution on his part, if I'm reading it at all right.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Creative or Destructive Unwinding?

Whether he is right or wrong, Kunstler is a visionary, futurist genius. Here's the final few paragraphs of his Monday essay, of special relevance to those (like my son Nathan, the city planner) whose work involves rethinking our patterns of living:

All this leads to two conclusions.

One is to accept the fact that the Happy Motoring era is over and to devote
our remaining resources to re-localization, walkable communities, and public
transit. It obviously requires a very drastic revision of our current collective
self-image, of what we aspire to and who we are. If the car companies have any
future at all, it should be based on making the rolling stock for public transit
-- and for now the most intelligent choice for us is to fix the existing
passenger railroad lines instead of venturing into grandiose new transit systems
requiring stupendous capital outlays. Let the car era wind down gracefully.
Triage and prioritize the highway maintenance agenda -- we won't be affluent
enough to keep repaving the whole existing system -- and let other nations meet
the diminishing demand for cars in the USA. This would be a "best case"
scenario. (Other nations may decide to go further up the Happy Motoring road at
their own eventual peril.)

My second conclusion is not so appetizing, namely that the bankruptcy of
General Motors may set in motion a chain of events that will accelerate the
destructive unwind of the bad credit economy, the damage to our bond values, the
loss of faith in our currency, and the authority and legitimacy of our leaders.
This last dire outcome might be allayed if, say, President Obama directed his
policy efforts to the items in the paragraph above, that is, a reality-based
agenda for true change in how we live -- but who can feel confident about that
happening these days? Maybe it will take a horrifying chain of events to get Mr.
Obama there. And then, tragically, he may be overwhelmed by the chain of events
itself. I hope not.

The Former Middle Class and GM

And now, for our regular installment of James Howard Kunstler (for some reason, this feels like Andy Rooney):

Something like a week remains before General Motors is reduced to lunch
meat on industrial-capital's All-You-Can-Eat buffet spread. The wish is that its
deconstructed pieces will re-organize into a "lean, mean machine" for producing
"cars that Americans want to buy," and that, by extension, the American Dream of
a Happy Motoring economy may be extended a while
longer.

This fantasy rests on some assumptions that just don't "pencil out." One is
that the broad American car-owning public can continue to buy their cars the
usual way, on credit. The biggest emerging new class in America is the "former
middle class." Credit kept the remnants of the middle class going for decades
after their incomes stopped growing in the 1970s. Now, their incomes have
stopped coming in altogether and they are sinking into swamp of entropy already
occupied by the tattoo-for-lunch-bunch. Of course, this has plenty of dire
sociopolitical implications.

Unfortunately, the big American banks did their biggest volume business in
their biggest loans at the very time that that the middle class was on its way
to becoming former. Now that the former middle class is arriving at its
destination, the banks are so damaged by bad paper that they won't make loans to
even the remnant of the remnant of the middle class. In other words, the entire
model for financing Happy Motoring is now out-of-order, probably
permanently.

You can read the rest here (scroll down a little on his website to his weekly essay).

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Gog and Magog

Read an interesting story here by Clive Hamilton about George W. Bush and the religious motives which some think drove him into the Iraq War. Tantalizer:

In 2003 while lobbying leaders to put together the Coalition of the
Willing, President Bush spoke to France’s President Jacques Chirac. Bush wove a
story about how the Biblical creatures Gog and Magog were at work in the Middle
East and how they must be defeated.

In Genesis and Ezekiel Gog and Magog are forces of the Apocalypse who
are prophesied to come out of the north and destroy Israel unless stopped. The
Book of Revelation took up the Old Testament prophesy:

“And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of
his prison, And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four
quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle … and
fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them.”

Bush believed the time had now come for that battle, telling
Chirac:

“This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to
erase his people’s enemies before a New Age begins”.

The story of the conversation emerged only because the Elysée Palace,
baffled by Bush’s words, sought advice from Thomas Römer, a professor of
theology at the University of Lausanne. Four years later, Römer gave an account
in the September 2007 issue of the university’s review, Allez savoir. The article apparently went unnoticed, although it was referred to in a
French newspaper.

The Value of Dissenting Opinion

One of the major reasons that I was increasingly concerned about the American economy in 2007 and 2008, to the point where I pulled a large percentage of my retirement investment fund out of stocks before the September, 2008 crash, was because I allowed myself to read dissenting opinions on politics and economics. If all I had read were the mainstream, middle-of-the-road economists, I would have been caught unawares like most other people. But I read economic contrarians like Bill Bonner and the LewRockwell website on the libertarian right, and the leftist economics on sites like Counterpunch.

So I have learned the value of looking at opinion across the political spectrum. Admittedly, it is sometimes painful, in that I see things and read ideas that I would rather not have to think about. But in the long run, it's the only way to get closer to the truth of reality.

All that to say, Alexander Cockburn's piece on Obama on his Counterpunch website this weekend is disturbing. Disturbing because I like Obama a lot and want to think well of him and agree with him. But I have to say that Cockburn's perspective has merit to it. Hence a couple of paragraphs now:

How long does it take a mild-mannered, antiwar, black professor of
constitutional law, trained as a community organizer on the South Side of
Chicago, to become an enthusiastic sponsor of targeted assassinations,
“decapitation” strategies and remote-control bombing of mud houses the far end
of the globe?

There’s nothing surprising here. As far back as President Woodrow
Wilson in the early twentieth century, American liberalism has been swift to
flex imperial muscle, to whistle up the Marines. High explosive has always been
in the hormone shot.

The nearest parallel to Obama in eager deference to the
bloodthirsty counsels of his counter-insurgency advisors is John F. Kennedy. It
is not surprising that bright young presidents relish quick-fix, “outside the
box” scenarios for victory.

Whether in Vietnam or Afghanistan the counsels of regular Army generals
tends to be drear and unappetizing: vast, costly deployments of troops by the
hundreds of thousand, mounting casualties, uncertain prospects for any long-term
success – all adding up to dismaying political costs on the home front.

Amid Camelot’s dawn in 1961, Kennedy swiftly bent an ear to the
counsels of men like Ed Lansdale, a special ops man who wore rakishly the halo
of victory over the Communist guerillas in the Philippines and who promised
results in Vietnam.

By the time he himself had become the victim of Lee Harvey
Oswald’s “decapitation” strategy, brought to successful conclusion in
Dealey Plaza, Dallas, on November 22, 1963, Kennedy had set in motion the
counter-insurgency operations, complete with programs of assassination and
torture, that turned South-East Asia and Latin America into charnel houses, some
of them, like Colombia, to this day.

Another Democrat who strode into the White House with the word “peace”
springing from his lips was Jimmy Carter. It was he who first decreed that
“freedom” and the war of terror required a $3.5 billion investment in a secret
CIA-led war in Afghanistan, plus the deployment of Argentinian torturers to
advise US military teams in counter-insurgency ops in El Salvador and Nicaragua.

(Though no US president can spend more than a few moments in the Oval
Office scanning his in-tray the morning after the inaugural ceremonies
without okaying the spilling of blood somewhere on the planet, it has to be said
that Bill Clinton did display some momentary distaste before settling
comfortably into the killer’s role. “Do we have to do this?” he muttered, as his
national security team said that imperial dignity required cruise missile
bombardment of Baghdad in 1993 in retaliation for a foiled attack on former
President G.H.W. Bush, during a visit to Kuwait. The misisiles landed in a
suburb, one of them killing the artist Laila al-Attar.)

Friday, May 22, 2009

Is Waterboarding Torture?

The question is being asked, is waterboarding torture? Or someless less? Christopher Hitchens, hawkish advocate for and defender of the Iraq invasion, underwent waterboarding last fall and came out of it with this:

You may have read by now the official lie about this treatment, which is
that it “simulates” the feeling of drowning. This is not the case. You feel that
you are drowning because you are drowning—or, rather, being drowned, albeit
slowly and under controlled conditions and at the mercy (or otherwise) of those
who are applying the pressure. The “board” is the instrument, not the method.
You are not being boarded. You are being watered. This was very rapidly brought
home to me when, on top of the hood, which still admitted a few flashes of
random and worrying strobe light to my vision, three layers of enveloping towel
were added. In this pregnant darkness, head downward, I waited for a while until
I abruptly felt a slow cascade of water going up my nose. Determined to resist
if only for the honor of my navy ancestors who had so often been in peril on the
sea, I held my breath for a while and then had to exhale and—as you might
expect—inhale in turn. The inhalation brought the damp cloths tight against my
nostrils, as if a huge, wet paw had been suddenly and annihilatingly clamped
over my face. Unable to determine whether I was breathing in or out, and flooded
more with sheer panic than with mere water, I triggered the pre-arranged signal
and felt the unbelievable relief of being pulled upright and having the soaking
and stifling layers pulled off me. I find I don’t want to tell you how little
time I lasted.

And then, he adds,

I apply the Abraham Lincoln test for moral casuistry: “If slavery is not
wrong, nothing is wrong.” Well, then, if waterboarding does not constitute
torture, then there is no such thing as torture.

The Children of God


"Let the children come unto me, do not hinder them....for to such belongs the Kingdom of Heaven."-- Jesus of Nazareth

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Untouchable Banks

Let's see. According to the Washington Post,

The government previously indicated that it planned to take at least 50
percent of the restructured company [GM], and likely would take the right to
name members to its board of directors, as it has at Chrysler, where the
government will control four of nine seats.

So why don't we do the same with Citibank and Bank of America? I tell you why. GM and Chrysler didn't give millions of dollars to all the politicians, including Obama, in the last election.

Oil Prices and Recession

I think in all of our chewing on the causes of the current economic crisis, one thing has been somewhat overlooked: the effect of higher oil prices in 2008. Professor James Hamilton, in testimony to Congress, made this point recently:

I'm persuaded that the oil price surge over 2007-08 was also an important
factor that contributed to the economic recession that began in 2007:Q4.
My testimony focuses on the causes and economic consequences of the big run-up
in oil prices that we saw in 2007-08. There was a modest drop in global
petroleum production between 2005 and 2008, caused in part by declining
production from mature fields in the North Sea and Mexico and a big drop in
Saudi Arabian oil production. But despite stagnant production, world petroleum
demand continued to boom. World GDP increased by 10.1 percent over these two
years, and Chinese consumption of oil increased by almost a million barrels per
day. The price of oil had to rise by whatever it took to persuade the rest of us
to decrease oil consumption, despite the strong growth in world income.

The historical experience has been that even very large oil price
increases cause relatively little immediate change in the quantity of oil
consumed. The response of consumers to energy price increases over 2004-2006
was, if anything, even smaller than those historical estimates. It was not until
the price rose substantially over $3 a gallon that we began to see some
significant changes on the part of American consumers. Unfortunately, those
changes in spending patterns can be quite disruptive for certain key economic
sectors and seem to be part of the mechanism by which the earlier oil price
shocks had contributed to previous economic recessions. As I note in my
testimony, the kinds of economic responses we saw between
2007:Q4 and 2008:Q3 were in fact quite similar to those observed to have
followed previous dramatic oil price increases.

The recessionary impact of higher oil prices is something to keep in mind, given the fact that higher demand and lower supply will be probably be a recurring experience in the coming years, with multiple effects on the economy, standard of living, and the American lifestyle.

Faux-Prosperity Is Not Returning

This paragraph by Mike Whitney, describing the securitization process underlying the debt bubble of the last decade, shows why our economy may be resetting at a new, lower 'normal', rather than recovering to the 'happy days' of the last ten years.

The faux-prosperity of the last decade was largely the result of a
wholesale credit system which created a humongous amount of credit via sketchy
debt instruments, off-balance sheet operations, massive leverage and
derivatives. (The Fed's liquidity and conventional bank loans play a very small
part in the modern credit system) Securitization--which is the conversion of
pools of loans into securities--is at the center of the storm. It formed the
asset-base upon which the investment banks and hedge funds stacked additional
leverage creating an unstable debt-pyramid that couldn't withstand the battering
of a slumping market. After two Bear Stearns funds defaulted 20 months ago, the
securitization markets froze, credit dried up and the broader economy went into
a tailspin. Now that investors know how risky securitized instruments really
are, there's little chance that assets will regain their original value or that
the market for structured debt will stage a comeback.

Despicable

Andrew Sullivan takes the words out of my mouth:

...the former vice-president's despicable and disgraceful speech....

Mr. Cheney, please go away. You've had your time, you've done your damage. We don't need you, we don't want you. You are acting like a jerk. Just as you, in your overweening lust for power, so clearly took over the Bush administration and served as the acting President, you now want to disrupt a new administration, as if you and your 'boss' were still in office. What kind of a monomaniacal, arrogant, narcissistic person are you?

You are the best argument against heart pacemakers I can think of.

Contacting Senator Hagen

I just sent my first email message to Senator Kay Hagen, which was to support President Obama in his effort to close Guantanamo.

If you are from North Carolina and would like to contact Senator Hagen on this or any other subject via email, you can find the means of doing so here.

Presidential

Andrew Sullivan interrupts his week off to post on Obama's speech today. Bottom line: he loved it!

I regard it as the national security equivalent of his Jeremiah Wright
speech. Why? Because it managed to reach a place apart from, while being fully
part of, the furious debates we have been having. These debates are vital, and
the notion that we can simply move on from the Bush-Cheney era without some
accounting or reform is both empirically and morally false. We are struggling
for a sustainable, long-term balance between security against a ruthless and
unprincipled and lawless enemy - and a law of war, and a judicial system and a
civilization that we rightly love and want to defend. This struggle will be a
long one, and an extremely difficult one....

This speech, to my mind, was a conservative one by a conservative
president who seeks first and foremost to use existing institutions to address
the new challenges of the moment, and then seeks pragmatic compromises, always
open to future checks and balances, in those places where such institutions
clearly need reform and adjustment. The speech does not shrink from clear
positions but it always does so from a place of reason and authority as opposed
to politics and power. It is a presidential speech - from a man who seeks to
unite and lead this country forward, rather than someone who sees fear and
division as a tool to be exploited.

New Urbanism

My son Nathan--a.k.a. The Caretaker of this blog--is a city planner in Colorado, who adheres to the professional philosophy of 'New Urbanism.' Look here to see an interesting video on that subject and why it is important. (Thanks to the Daily Dish)

What Is Wrong With These People?

A reader to the Daily Dish writes about the weird Senator Harry Reid:

I have had a bit of a rough week, haven't smiled or laughed nearly as much
as I usually do, but that changed when I saw video of Harry Reid maintaining
that you can't put accused terrorists in prison without releasing them
. I
laughed so hard my cheeks hurt afterward and my patient husband had to put up
with me backing up the Tivo several times just to see it again and again.

I am in awe over the scaredy-cat crap coming out of our senators' mouths (with the
excellent exception of Dick Durbin). What is wrong with these people? They act
like the detainees have crazy superpowers, like they are going to transform into
a millimeter-high insect and crawl out under the cell door into the shoe of a
correctional officer and then ESCAPE.

Trying To Do Too Much?

Richard Posner, writing a number of posts on the current economic crisis at the Daily Dish, gives an interesting analysis of the obstacles faced by the Obama administration in solving the mess they inherited.

It's Economics, Stupid

With Andrew Sullivan taking a week off, it's amazing how much of his blog The Daily Dish is dealing with economic issues. What's that all about?

The Value of a Humanities Education

This posting gives the reasons why a broad-based humanities education may well be the best college education of all. Interesting. Take heart, SB!

It's Over and Isn't Coming Back


This chart--and the accompanying post--may be the most transparent evidence yet that there is little chance that we will be returning to the economy of the last two decades. Rather we are going forward to something that is different--a new 'normal'--, more frugal, and ultimately better, because more in line with reality.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Dan Brown's Jesus

Ross Douthet, the NYT's new conservative columnist, does a good job of getting to the heart of Dan Brown's 'project' in both The DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons:

In the Brownian worldview, all religions — even Roman Catholicism — have
the potential to be wonderful, so long as we can get over the idea that any one of them might be particularly true. It’s a message perfectly tailored for
21st-century America, where the most important religious trend is neither
swelling unbelief nor rising fundamentalism, but the emergence of a generalized “religiousness” detached from the claims of any specific faith tradition.

The polls that show more Americans abandoning organized religion don’t suggest a dramatic uptick in atheism: They reveal the growth of do-it-yourself spirituality, with traditional religion’s dogmas and moral requirements shorn away.
The same trend is at work within organized faiths as well, where both liberal
and conservative believers often encounter a God who’s too busy validating their particular version of the American Dream to raise a peep about, say, how much money they’re making or how many times they’ve been married.

These are Dan Brown’s kind of readers. Piggybacking on the fascination
with lost gospels and alternative
Christianities
, he serves up a Jesus who’s a thoroughly modern sort of
messiah — sexy, worldly, and Goddess-worshiping, with a wife and kids, a house
in the Galilean suburbs, and no delusions about his own divinity.

But the success of this message — which also shows up in the work of
Brown’s many thriller-writing imitators — can’t be separated from its dishonesty. The “secret” history of Christendom that unspools in “The Da Vinci Code” is false from start to finish.
The lost gospels are real enough, but they neither confirm the portrait of
Christ that Brown is peddling — they’re far, far
weirder
than that — nor provide a persuasive alternative to the New Testament account. The Jesus of Matthew,
Mark, Luke and John — jealous, demanding, apocalyptic — may not be congenial to contemporary sensibilities, but he’s the only historically-plausible Jesus there is.

For millions of readers, Brown’s novels have helped smooth over the
tension between ancient Christianity and modern American faith. But the tension endures. You can have Jesus or Dan Brown. But you can’t have both.

Monday, May 18, 2009

War Without Torture

Blogger Andrew Sullivan makes a plausible case for going along with Obama's current strategy in Af-Pk:

What Obama understands is that the war on terror is real, that we need to
win both ideologically and militarily, and that we have lost a lot of ground in
Afghanistan and Pakistan. I remain worried that this war has become unwinnable,
its goals unclear, its rationale more and more an attempt to prevent the
unpreventable. But it remains a fact that Obama campaigned to wage war
successfully in Afghanistan and Pakistan - and he cannot exactly withdraw
precipitously now. Petraeus, an honorable man whose stance on abuse and torture
has long been unequivocally on the side of the angels, backs McChrystal. A
combination of better Petraeus-style counter-insurgency strategy with McChrystal
special ops' targeting of Qaeda terrorists in Pakistan might be the way to
advance. It certainty would be an advance on these drone attacks, which apear to
be winning battles and losing the war. I don't know, but I'm perfectly prepared
to give the president the benefit of the doubt on this, as I did the last one at
this juncture. And I think all of us who supported him last fall should - for
the current summer military campaign at the very least.

But look forward and see the potential of Obama's offensive against al
Qaeda and the Taliban in Af-Pak. Imagine the political and security impact of
actual success in that war. Imagine if a president who eschews torture captures
Osama bin Laden, or devastates al Qaeda's infrastructure without succumbing to
the pathologies of Cheney. Isn't that in the long run the best way to defang the
threat that Cheney and Cheneyism pose to this country's future?

Housing Bubble Economy

Another interesting Kunstler quote from an interview in the New Yorker:

...over the last decade, the housing bubble sort of became the replacement
for the manufacturing economy. You know, we pretended we had a service economy,
we pretended we had a digital economy, but what we really had was a
housing-bubble economy, and what that was all about was building more of an
infrastructure for a daily life with no future. So it was a completely tragic
fiasco, and now we’re seeing a severe and radical implosion of that, which is
just going to thunder through our lives for years to come.

One Contrarian's Vision of the American Future

Here is James Kuntler's summary vision of the American Future:

There are plenty of things you can state about the economy past and future
with some confidence right now:

-- Cheap energy is over and our wishes for alt.energy are currently
inconsistent with reality, meaning we have to live differently.

-- We have to downscale and re-localize our major economic activities: food
production, commerce and manufacturing, banking, schooling, etc.

-- We can't hope to have a stable money system unless we allow a workout of
unpayable debt to proceed.

-- Even if we can do this, universal easy credit is a thing of the past.
From now on, we have to save for the things we want and run our businesses and
households on accounts receivable.

-- Major demographic shifts are inevitable as it becomes necessary to let
go of suburbia and reactivate our derelict towns and smaller cities (and allow
our giant metroplexes to contract).

-- We have to face the truth that our major social contracts cannot be met,
namely the continuation of social security as we know it and probably all
pension arrangements. We'll probably have to change household arrangements to
make up for these losses.

-- Health care will have to go through a revolution more comprehensive than
just changing how we pay for it. Like everything else, it will have to
downscale, re-localize, and become more rigorous.

My Thoughts Exactly

It wouldn't be Monday without James Kunstler's dose of gloom:

The wishes of the "green shoots and mustard seed" crowd really hinge on
whether the various organs of the suburban economy can be jump-started back to
life -- the production home-builders, the granite countertop outfitters, the
mall and strip-mall gang, the national chain discount retailers, all the people
who make Happy Motoring possible from the factory to the showroom, and, of
course, the banks who shovel money into these
enterprises.

All these organs of our now-former economy are gravely impaired, and a
realistic appraisal of them would have to conclude that they've entered the zone
of congestive failure. The choice we face really comes down to this: do we put
our dwindling resources and "hopes" into resuscitating those dying systems, or
do we move forward to the next chapter of American life, cut our losses, and
make new arrangements more consistent with the realities on offer from the
universe? To take it a step further, can we remain one nation, a common culture,
without such a conscious re-purposing of our collective spirit?

At this point, Kunstler gives kudos to Obama on his speech:

The bizarre spectacle being played out right now by President Obama and his
team only adds layers of mystery and mystification to this big question. On the
one hand, you have Mr. Obama giving a graceful, thoughtful speech on a very
difficult issue (abortion) at a very tough venue (the country's leading Catholic
university), and presenting an excellent case for common ground. It was a bold
deed, unshirking, even brave considering what have come to be the standard modes
of pander or evasion in presidential politics. I suspect that Mr. Obama did it
as much to demonstrate his willingness to face tough questions in general as to
address abortion per se.

Only to turn around and castigate the Obama team for their handling of the economy:

All this is to say why it is so dispiriting to see Mr. Obama's White House
mount a campaign to sustain the unsustainable in the economic realm. Everything
they've done for four months involving money management and enterprise policy --
from backstopping hopeless banks, to gaming the bankruptcies of the big car
companies, to the bungled efforts to prop up artificially-high house prices --
amounts to a gigantic exercise in futility. Worse, it gives off odors of
dishonesty or stupidity, since the ominous tendings of our system are so starkly
self-evident.

Not least of the problems entailed in all this are the scary political
consequences. It's one thing for a business such as a bank to fail; its another
thing for the public to lose confidence in banking, or their own currency, or
the credibility of all the people who work in banking, or the authority of those
charged to regulate these activities, or the courts and their officers who are
supposed to adjudicate misconduct in them. When faith in all these things starts
to go, all bets are off for even larger social constructs like democracy,
justice, and the destiny of a federal republic.

The Audacity of Hope Continues

Obama's Commencement Address at Notre Dame was simply a masterpiece, that should go down in history as one of the best ever. Every American should read it. Here are the final two paragraphs:

I will not pretend that the challenges we face will be easy, or that the
answers will come quickly, or that all our differences and divisions will fade
happily away — because life is not that simple. It never has been. But as you
leave here today, remember the lessons of Cardinal Bernardin, of Father
Hesburgh, of movements for change both large and small. Remember that each of
us, endowed with the dignity possessed by all children of God, has the grace to
recognize ourselves in one another; to understand that we all seek the same love
of family, the same fulfillment of a life well lived. Remember that in the end,
in some way we are all fishermen.

If nothing else, that knowledge should give us faith that through our
collective labor, and God's providence, and our willingness to shoulder each
other's burdens, America will continue on its precious journey towards that more
perfect union. Congratulations, Class of 2009. May God bless you, and may God
bless the United States of America.

'Hold Firm to Your Faith'

I heard Bishop Tutu at Carolina's graduation ceremonies, and I have to say that Obama's 'sermon' at Notre Dame was as every bit as good, if not more so:

And in this world of competing claims about what is right and what is true,
have confidence in the values with which you've been raised and educated. Be
unafraid to speak your mind when those values are at stake. Hold firm to your
faith and allow it to guide you on your journey. In other words, stand as a
lighthouse.

But remember, too, that you can be a crossroads. Remember, too,
that the ultimate irony of faith is that it necessarily admits doubt. It's the
belief in things not seen. It's beyond our capacity as human beings to know with
certainty what God has planned for us or what He asks of us. And those of us who
believe must trust that His wisdom is greater than our own.

And this doubt should not push us away our faith. But it should
humble us. It should temper our passions, cause us to be wary of too much
self-righteousness. It should compel us to remain open and curious and eager to
continue the spiritual and moral debate that began for so many of you within the
walls of Notre Dame. And within our vast democracy, this doubt should remind us
even as we cling to our faith to persuade through reason, through an appeal
whenever we can to universal rather than parochial principles, and most of all
through an abiding example of good works and charity and kindness and service
that moves hearts and minds.

For if there is one law that we can be most certain of, it is the law
that binds people of all faiths and no faith together. It's no coincidence that
it exists in Christianity and Judaism; in Islam and Hinduism; in Buddhism and
humanism. It is, of course, the Golden Rule — the call to treat one another as
we wish to be treated. The call to love. The call to serve. To do what we can to
make a difference in the lives of those with whom we share the same brief moment
on this Earth.

Sharing the Gospel at Notre Dame

Obama's Christian testimony at Notre Dame was pretty amazing:

Open hearts. Open minds. Fair-minded words. It's a way of life that has
always been the Notre Dame tradition. Father Hesburgh has long spoken of this
institution as both a lighthouse and a crossroads. A lighthouse that stands
apart, shining with the wisdom of the Catholic tradition, while the crossroads
is where "differences of culture and religion and conviction can coexist with
friendship, civility, hospitality, and especially love." And I want to join him
and Father John in saying how inspired I am by the maturity and responsibility
with which this class has approached the debate surrounding today's ceremony.
You are an example of what Notre Dame is about.

This tradition of cooperation and understanding is one that I learned
in my own life many years ago — also with the help of the Catholic Church.
You see, I was not raised in a particularly religious household, but my mother
instilled in me a sense of service and empathy that eventually led me to become
a community organizer after I graduated college. And a group of Catholic
churches in Chicago helped fund an organization known as the Developing
Communities Project, and we worked to lift up South Side neighborhoods that had
been devastated when the local steel plant closed.

And it was quite an eclectic crew — Catholic and Protestant churches,
Jewish and African American organizers, working-class black, white, and Hispanic
residents — all of us with different experiences, all of us with different
beliefs. But all of us learned to work side by side because all of us saw in
these neighborhoods other human beings who needed our help — to find jobs and
improve schools. We were bound together in the service of others.

And something else happened during the time I spent in these
neighborhoods — perhaps because the church folks I worked with were so welcoming
and understanding; perhaps because they invited me to their services and sang
with me from their hymnals; perhaps because I was really broke and they fed me.
Perhaps because I witnessed all of the good works their faith inspired them to
perform, I found myself drawn not just to the work with the church; I was drawn
to be in the church. It was through this service that I was brought to Christ.

And at the time, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin was the Archbishop of
Chicago. For those of you too young to have known him or known of him, he was a
kind and good and wise man. A saintly man. I can still remember him speaking at
one of the first organizing meetings I attended on the South Side. He stood as
both a lighthouse and a crossroads — unafraid to speak his mind on moral issues
ranging from poverty and AIDS and abortion to the death penalty and nuclear war.
And yet, he was congenial and gentle in his persuasion, always trying to bring
people together, always trying to find common ground. Just before he died, a
reporter asked Cardinal Bernardin about this approach to his ministry. And he
said, "You can't really get on with preaching the Gospel until you've touched
hearts and minds."

My heart and mind were touched by him. They were touched by the words
and deeds of the men and women I worked alongside in parishes across Chicago.
And Id like to think that we touched the hearts and minds of the neighborhood
families whose lives we helped change. For this, I believe, is our highest
calling.

Obama at Notre Dame

In addressing the graduating class of Notre Dame, President Obama spoke, as usual, with eloquence and grace:

You, however, are not getting off that easy. You have a different deal.
Your class has come of age at a moment of great consequence for our nation and
for the world — a rare inflection point in history where the size and scope of
the challenges before us require that we remake our world to renew its promise;
that we align our deepest values and commitments to the demands of a new age.
It's a privilege and a responsibility afforded to few generations — and a task
that you're now called
to fulfill.

This generation, your generation is the one that must find a path back
to prosperity and decide how we respond to a global economy that left millions
behind even before the most recent crisis hit — an economy where greed and
short-term thinking were too often rewarded at the expense of fairness, and
diligence, and an honest day's work.

Your generation must decide how to save God's creation from a changing
climate that threatens to destroy it. Your generation must seek peace at a time
when there are those who will stop at nothing to do us harm, and when weapons in
the hands of a few can destroy the many. And we must find a way to reconcile our
ever-shrinking world with its ever-growing diversity — diversity of thought,
diversity of culture, and diversity of belief.

In short, we must find a way to live together as one human
family.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Not an FDR But a Clinton

Unfortunately, I'm coming to believe that Obama is too much like Bill Clinton. David Michael Green caustically writes about this here:

If that Clinton style sounds harrowingly familiar, it’s because it
is. My sense is that Obama is a lot like a Clinton, though he can be – and
is – mistaken for an FDR for the reasons given above. There is in fact a
difference between Barack and Bill, I’m pretty sure, but not necessarily such a
significant one. Where I think Clinton was in it exclusively for Clinton,
as only a quintessential Baby Boomer could fully be, and thus given to precise
calculations of exquisitely refined political safety at every turn, I think
Obama is more public-spirited. But, crucially, the nothing-burger
tendencies he shares with Clinton seem nevertheless fully present. I
suspect they are driven by his “can’t we all just get along” personality, as
opposed to Bill’s manic attention-craving disorder, but so what? They
still amount to a lot of nothing, delivered way too late.

Whatever the motivation, what I think is hard to deny is that, while
Obama appears to be a real go-getter, he is in fact a mere incrementalist in a
time of real crisis. Despite the fact that George W. Bush’s disastrous and
regressive presidency can make Obama look bold and progressive in contrast, he
is in fact hurling Band-Aid after Band-Aid at national hemorrhage after gaping
wound. And that’s just his best stuff. As soon as you get to what
really matters to the predatory regressive right – the money, of course – Obama
is almost indistinguishable from George “Enron” Bush, or Dick “This is our due”
Cheney.

I’d have a problem with that under normal circumstances. There is
always plenty of work to be done in this very imperfect world, and the last
thing we need is another Clinton who wasted eight years of a presidency avoiding
risk at all costs and accomplishing nothing. I’d also obviously have a
problem with that under ‘normal’ post-Bush circumstances, where so much wreckage
so desperately needs to be undone. But I really object to this
embarrassingly centrist, ultra-cautious pussyfooting when there are so many
critical conditions in crisis mode, screaming out for attention.

I cannot believe I live in a world massively threatened by
environmental catastrophe, and my government is barely even talking about
half-measures, let alone moving heaven and earth with fierce urgency to save the
planet. And the oil guys aren’t even in the White House anymore.
I
cannot believe I live in a world where the economy is imploding and the guy in
charge of the country where the recession is rooted has hired agents of the very
criminal crowd responsible for the problem to produce a solution, and that,
shockingly, the ‘solution’ once again benefits wealthy elites while doing little
for the rest of us.

I cannot believe that I live in a country with a crumbling healthcare
system, and the solution being offered by the “change” candidate-now-president –
to the extent we will see one at all – will forego the obvious model of
universal coverage adopted by all other developed countries in the world, and
will instead slap Scotch Tape on the train wreck of the existing for-profit
healthcare disaster, in an attempt to hold it together a little longer.

For a year now I’ve wondered what Obama would turn out to be – a Bill
Clinton or an FDR. I think we have a pretty good answer at this
point. Indeed, ironically, Obama now seems to be out-Clintoning
Clinton. He not only has the very national crisis that Wild Bill craved,
he’s got about six of them. But always the response seems to be incredibly
tepid and conventional and, well, conservative – as the above examples
show.

This is classic Barackoism: Let’s move real slow. Let’s not
offend anyone. Let’s find the most half-way possible measure, and then cut
it in half again, just to be sure. Maybe we can bring the Republicans
along, even though we don’t need to. Is Wall Street okay with this?

Obama has all the conditions necessary to be a bold and historic
president. He came to office at a time of great and multiple crises.
He promised change and the people gave him a mandate for precisely that
purpose. The opposition is in complete disarray, and is rightly blamed by
the public for the mess Obama has inherited. People are frightened and
hurting, and looking for relief. And, for the first time in a long time,
they’re overtly looking to government for that relief.

The biggest irony may just be this: That Barack Obama’s instinct for
the capillary could be the one thing that has the capability of reaching deep
down into the toilet bowl, down through the pipes and into the sewer system, and
dragging the shit-encrusted Republican Party back to the surface, miraculously
offering it a magical elixir of renewed viability despite its own immensely
successful attempt at party suicide.


Forgive me, Caretaker, but I'm afraid I agree with much of the above.

Without a Mall, where will we walk?

Malls are dying across America. People just don't like shopping at them anymore. This is one of the happier consequences of the recession in my opinion, but this paragraph sums up everything that is wrong with our society:
“One of the biggest consequences of mall closings is the loss of a sense of community,” says David Birnbrey of The Shopping Center Group, “a place where people gather and socialize.” And exercise. Retirees Dick and Anne Saplata work out by walking around the largely empty halls of the Metcalf South Mall in Leawood, Kan. It’s likely to close soon, and there’s talk that a developer will raze the place. If the mall goes under, Dick Saplata asks, “where are we going to walk?”
Ummm, how about outside? I mean its not like Kansas is frickin Alaska. The weather ain't that bad.

We've come to depend on shopping malls for community and exercise. Man, we've got a long way to go to fix this country.

A Cynic's View

Paul Craig Robert's take on why we are ramping up the fighting in Afghanistan and Pakistan:

Why is the US making itself impotent fighting wars that have nothing
whatsoever to do with is security, wars that are, in fact, threatening its
security?

The answer is that the military/security lobby, the financial
gangsters, and AIPAC rule. The American people be damned.

The Roman Solution to Piracy (the GOP wouldn't like it)

Via Balloon Juice:

By the early 60s BC, pirates had become such a menace to Mediterranean shipping that in 67 Rome gave Pompey a "special command" and vast resources to try to get rid of them. It was great opportunity for this general 'on the make' to demonstrate his military genius. So he divided the sea into separate operational regions and, using loyal subordinate officers, he swept the pirates off the waters in just a few months.

But Pompey was smart enough to realise that, unless they were given some other form of livelihood, they would soon be back. (This is basically the Afghanistan problem: if they don't make their money out of the poppy crop how ARE they going to survive.) So in a wonderful, early 'resettlement of offenders' initiative he offered the pirates small-holdings near the coast, where they could make an honest living for themselves.
I totally agree with DougJ's analysis as well:

I’m not saying that something like this is the right solution to the current pirate problem, but can you imagine what would happen if an American president did attempt this approach? President sends pirates candy and flowers. We are all pirate ransomees now. This is Munich all over again. A Churchillian never would have done this.

I’ve always been struck by the pragmatism of ancient Rome. I have to believe that a practical approach to governing (do whatever you want as long as you pay your taxes) may have been part of what allowed the empire to last as long as it did. I don’t think they would have lasted as long if they’d adopted a Freedom Agenda or tried to convert conquered peoples to some crackpot religion.

Picture Worth a Thousand Words


2007 Defense Spending. Any questions?


General McChrystal

This post by blogger Andrew Sullivan on torture and General McChrystal is very powerful. At some point, Sullivan may just turn on Obama, and that will not be good.

Health Care Costs Out of Control

David Brooks has a deep sense of pessimism about any real control of health care costs in the coming years, upon which the Obama administration is basing its economic program:

If you read the C.B.O. testimony and talk to enough experts, you come away
with a stark conclusion: There are deep structural forces, both in Medicare and
the private insurance market, that have driven the explosion in health costs. It
is nearly impossible to put together a majority coalition for a bill that
challenges those essential structures. Therefore, the leading proposals on
Capitol Hill do not directly address the structural problems. They are a
collection of worthy but speculative ideas designed to possibly mitigate their
effects.

Debtor Nation

Economist Nouriel Roubini speaks to one of the biggest problems facing our economy in the near future, as a result of our tremendous debt:

THE 19th century was dominated by the British Empire, the 20th century by
the United States. We may now be entering the Asian century, dominated by a
rising China and its currency. While the dollar’s status as the major reserve
currency will not vanish overnight, we can no longer take it for granted. Sooner
than we think, the dollar may be challenged by other currencies, most likely the
Chinese renminbi. This would have serious costs for America, as our ability to
finance our budget and trade deficits cheaply would disappear.

Traditionally, empires that hold the global reserve currency are also net
foreign creditors and net lenders. The British Empire declined — and the pound
lost its status as the main global reserve currency — when Britain became a net
debtor and a net borrower in World War II. Today, the United States is in a
similar position. It is running huge budget and trade deficits, and is relying
on the kindness of restless foreign creditors who are starting to feel uneasy
about accumulating even more dollar assets. The resulting downfall of the dollar
may be only a matter of time.

Those Scandinavians: How Do They Do It?

Here is an intriguing article in the NYT about Norway, a country with a Democratic Socialist economy that is basically debt-free and prosperous in the midst of a world-wide economic crisis.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Congratulations, Sarahbeth


Congratulations to our daughter Sarahbeth on her graduation Sunday from UNC-Chapel Hill.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Subprime Mortgages

If you want to see who was behind the subprime mortgage mess, check out this article from the Center for Public Integrity.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Fighting Climate Change


This chart released by the Congressional Budget Office shows why nothing is more important than the fight against global warming. Nothing.

The Difference Between Autos and Banks

Harold Meyerson compares the sensible handling of the auto companies by the Obama administration with their handling of the banks:

In other words, the Treasury's approach to the auto industry is equitable,
responsible to taxpayers and economically sensible. It is also, in almost every
particular, the diametric opposite of its approach to the banks. In return for
its major loans to floundering auto companies too big and strategic to be
allowed to go under, the Treasury opted for a structured bankruptcy, converting
its loans to shares, ousting top executives, shrinking the companies. In return
for its mega-loans to floundering banks that were also too big and strategic to
fail, the Treasury has not opted for structured bankruptcy, has not converted
its loans into shares, has not forced out top executives, has not moved to make
banks smaller (save in its proposal to limit leverage). Indeed, its bailout of
AIG rewarded bondholders such as Goldman Sachs to the detriment of everyone
else.

The Incredibly Shrinking John Edwards

Maureen Dowd writes a very sad and poignant column about John and Elizabeth Edwards here. (He was my first choice for the Democratic nomination, until I began to sense a certain shrillness and lack of creativity in his campaigning. Then I switched to Obama in the Fall of 2007.) Here's a paragraph:

John Edwards’s political career is over, and he’s being investigated by the
feds about whether he used campaign funds to underwrite his affair. Nobody —
except Rielle — has any interest in hearing from him again. Americans would have
been relieved if the last we heard of him was that cringe-inducing “Nightline”
interview last year, when he made the argument that he was a helpless narcissist
and that he hit on Rielle when Elizabeth’s cancer was in remission.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Proselytizing in Afghanistan

This is a disturbing video about our military in Afghanistan seeking to convert Muslims there to Christianity. One has to ask if this should be the task of our military involvement in other countries.


The Mellow Doctrine

Roger Cohen of the NYT writes about Obama's 'Mellow Doctrine':

Amazing what happens when you cast aside the testosterone.

I know bristling Dick Cheney believes America’s enemies now perceive “a
weak president,” as do sundry Republican senators, but the truth is that foes of
the United States have been disarmed by Barack Obama’s no-drama diplomacy.

Call it the mellow doctrine. Neither idealistic nor classic
realpolitik, it involves finding strength through unconventional means:
acknowledgment of the limits of American power; frankness about U.S. failings;
careful listening; fear reduction; adroit deployment of the wide appeal of brand
Barack Hussein Obama; and jujitsu engagement.

Already the mellow doctrine has brought some remarkable shifts, even if
more time is needed to see its results.

The Castro brothers in Cuba are squabbling over the meaning of Obama’s
overtures. Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez has gone gooey-eyed over the Yanqui
president. Turkey relented on a major NATO dispute, persuaded of the importance
of Obama’s conciliatory message to Muslims.

From Damascus to Tehran, new debate rages over possible rapprochement
with Washington. In Israel, I understand Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is
about to drag his Likud party kicking and screaming to acceptance of the idea of
a two-state solution because he knows the cost of an early confrontation with
Obama.

Not bad for 105 days.


It feels good, even if Pakistan looks bad.

Souter's Shack


I cannot believe this is Supreme Court Justice Souter's home in New Hampshire. It simply boggles the mind.


Pontiac, RIP

Until a few days ago, the Arnolds had a plan. In the tradition of his
father and grandfather, Bob the white-haired elder, 74, would be turning the
dealership over to his son, Bob the dark-haired younger, 44. The handoff would
have happened sooner if not for the embezzlement of $400,000 a couple of years
ago by a longtime employee who was like family and who, it turned out, liked to
gamble.

But a far deeper betrayal came last week, the Arnolds say, when another
family member and poor gambler, General
Motors
, announced that by 2010 it would close its Pontiac division and 2,600
of its 6,200 dealerships — all to convince a doubtful Obama administration that
it had a business plan strong enough to beat a bankruptcy deadline of June 1 and
to deserve more government loans.

Pontiac: The Official Car of the 2009 Economic Crisis.


It's so sad to see Pontiac disappear. It was my favorite car of all, so far: a 1990 Pontiac 6000. It looked good, drove well, had lots of power and room, and was fairly good on gas mileage. What more could you want? I still see lots of Pontiacs around, so they seem like a good niche brand. But who am I?

The Big Nightmare: Pakistan

Actually, having read that last post, I'm beginning to think that a missile defense system against Pakistani nuclear missiles falling into Islamist hands might not be such a bad idea.

Forget Iran. As many have been saying for years now, it's Pakistan that is the big nightmare for the West and the world. (One wonders if Israel really understands this?) And we helped bring it about by staying in Afghanistan and pushing the Taliban into Pakistan. Yes, we did.

They call it 'blowback,' at least in CIA terms. And we haven't learned our lesson yet, with our ratcheting up of our military involvement in the Af-Pak region. I don't know what the answer is, but I'm not sure that's it.

Muslim Schooling for Fundamentalists

Islamic education that is also radical Islamist for the poorest people in many Muslim countries is a real problem for the West, but one without a good solution. It would be as if every school in America were run by fundamentalist Christians who always voted for the most conservative Republicans. This article deals with such schools in Pakistan.

With public education in a shambles, Pakistan’s poorest families have
turned to madrasas, or Islamic schools, that feed and house the children while
pushing a more militant brand of Islam than was traditional here.

The concentration of madrasas here in southern Punjab has become an urgent
concern in the face of Pakistan’s expanding insurgency. The schools offer almost
no instruction beyond the memorizing of the
Koran
, creating a widening pool of young minds that are sympathetic to
militancy.

In an analysis of the profiles of suicide bombers who have struck in
Punjab, the Punjab police said more than two-thirds had attended madrasas.

“We are at the beginning of a great storm that is about to sweep the
country,” said Ibn Abduh Rehman, who directs the Human Rights Commission of
Pakistan, an independent organization. “It’s red alert for Pakistan.”

A Generation Chooses

My son Adam recently wrote a 'letter to the editor' of his local newspaper in Southern Pines, NC. I think it merits posting here.

A Generation Chooses

What has been one of the biggest explanations for those who oppose
President Obama's budget? They don't want to pass down the debt to their
children.

From this, it seems these people are thinking only about the
welfare of the next generation. The problem is, my generation, the one that will
inherit all of this, doesn't buy it.

We are the most highly educated generation in history, the most
connected generation in history, and one of the most politically and socially
active groups of young people in recent memory. This is good for the country. It
means a smarter electorate, better governance -- a better system.

Of this generation (under 30 years old), over two-thirds voted for
Obama. If the general vote was a landslide, the youth vote was an avalanche.
Yet, when my generation speaks, we seem to be drowned out by the same old
naysayers, relying on the same tactics that brought us to where we see ourselves
... inheriting a monstrous set of problems.

The reason Obama won the youth vote in such high numbers is because he
understands our goals. We know that climate change is occurring, and we are
anxious to start working on clean energy. We know that America's role in the
world must change, and we are happy to see less "cowboy rhetoric."

We recognize the major shortfalls of our health care, transportation
and education systems (not to mention our financial system!), and are eager to
transform them to serve us better.
We have an opportunity to clean up this
pile of problems, and we know we cannot wait any longer. Unfortunately, they
won't just go away without expense.

But to those who fear handing down a large debt: We choose that debt
over our other inheritance.

Adam Lindquist

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Endless Options

If you are a parent of a college or high school student, you will enjoy this article.

A Collapsed Republican Party

Frank Rich's take on the Republican Party:

The Republican Party has collapsed, and that is not a good thing for the
country or for Obama. We need more than one functioning party, not just to
ensure checks and balances and pitch in ideas at a time of crisis, but to temper
this president’s sporadic bursts of overconfidence and triumphalist stagecraft.
No one is perfect. We must remember that there is also an Obama who gave us “You’re
likable enough, Hillary
,” a faux presidential seal and a convention speech delivered before what Sarah Palin
rightly mocked as “Styrofoam Greek columns” hauled out of a “studio lot.”

That Obama needs a serious counterweight in the political arena. But
the former party of Lincoln and liberty has now melted down to a fundamentalist
core of aging, rural Dixiecrats and intrusive scolds — as small as
20 percent of the populace
in the latest polls. Its position on the American
spectrum of ideas is somewhere between a doomsday cult and Scientology.

You can’t blame the president if he is laughing, too. As The Economist recently certified, the G.O.P. is now officially in the throes of “Obama Derangement Syndrome.” The same conservative gang that remained mum when George W. Bush praised Putin’s “soul” and held hands with the Saudi ruler Abdullah are now condemning Obama for shaking hands with Hugo Chávez, “bowing” to Abdullah, relaxing Cuban policy and talking to hostile governments. Polls show overwhelming majorities favoring Obama’s positions. But his critics have locked themselves in the padded cell of an alternative reality. Not long before The Wall Street Journal informed its readers that 81 percent of Americans liked Obama, Karl Rove wrote in its pages that “no president in the past 40 years has done more to polarize America so much, so quickly.”

From derangement it’s a small step to madness. Last week, the president of a prime G.O.P. auxiliary, the Concerned Women for America, speculated that the president’s declaration of “a state of emergency about the flu was a political thing” to push through Kathleen Sebelius’s nomination as secretary of health and human services. At those tax-protesting “tea parties” on April 15, signs and speakers portrayed Obama as a “fascist,” a “socialist,” a terrorist and Hitler. Republican governors have proposed rejecting stimulus money for their states (only to fold after constituents rebelled) or, in the notorious instance of Rick Perry of Texas, toyed with secession from the union.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

37th in Health Care

Former Senator Tom Daschle talks turkey on health care in a recent speech:

It’s important that we’re all on the same page, that we agree what the
problem really is. Before we define the problem we have to destroy the myth. And
the myth in our country has long been that we have the best healthcare system in
the world. Why else would kings and leaders all around the world, people of
prominence come to the United States?

Well to a certain extent that is true. But for every king who may come
to the United States, there are thousands of people who leave the US to get
medical care elsewhere. They call it now medical tourism. Thousands of people
leave the United States because the quality and the cost is better in other
countries. So how do we explain, well we explain by simply stating that we have
islands of excellence in a sea of mediocrity.

We are 29th in the world when it comes to infant mortality. 29th. We
are 24th in overall women’s health. We rank 31st in life expectancy. On Pine
Ridge Indian reservation the life expectancy of an Indian male is 47 years. The
same as what it is in Botswana. We rank 37th overall in outcomes. 37th. Below
Costa Rica and just above Slovenia. And I would ask how long would this country
stand for being 37th in the Olympics? We wouldn’t stand for it long.

Friday, May 1, 2009

An Apology Would Be Nice

Felix Salmon of Reuters writes about apologies and why it would be nice to receive some from those who played a part in screwing our economy up:

...we’ve had virtually nothing in the way of apologies for screwing up the
global economy, and it would do us all a lot of good if people who both caused
and benefitted from the financial-services boom would man up and admit to their
mistakes.

Top of the list, just by dint of his present importance in the
government, is Larry Summers. In his tenure as a senior Treasury official during
the Clinton years, Summers was intimately involved in laying the regulatory and
philosophical foundations for the bubble. [Economist Simon] Johnson, who’s been following
Summers’s thinking for some time, says that it has evolved in interesting ways,
especially as regards the over-reliance on the financial sector for economic
growth in the 1990s. It’s not a giant leap from that evolution to a simple
admission from Summers that he made mistakes at the time. Except there’s the
whole problem of Larry’s massive ego, which makes it hard for him to ever admit
being wrong.

Of course, Summers isn’t the only person who should be apologizing: I
very much look forward to reading or watching something similar from Bob Rubin,
who managed to compound his errors at Treasury with further massive blunders at
Citigroup. And the list goes on. Greenspan would be nice, but he’s already
admitted being wrong on some fronts, and has at least engaged substantively with
his critics on most others. Ken Lewis and Stan O’Neal and Sandy Weill and Dick
Fuld, of course. Phil Gramm, absolutely. But let’s start with Summers, since
he’s the one name on the list who’s still actively involved in making incredibly
important decisions which affect the future of the country. And if he can’t
admit to making mistakes, how can he learn from them?