Friday, December 14, 2007

Pop Quiz

What do you call an economic environment where growth is slowing to a crawl while prices are going through the roof?


Thursday, December 13, 2007


Here's the headline from Juan Cole's blog today:

40 Dead, 125 Wounded in Amara Bombings;
Bombings in Baghdad leave 30 Dead or Wounded
Just another day in the American supervised paradise!



Froomkin is doing a column today about the difficulties of Congress. Republican obstruction tactics and Bush's vetos have become chronic and have worked, while Democrats continue to try to get along. This particular quote from Steny Hoyer summarizes the situation:

"House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters that Democrats have done all they can. 'We were not elected to do what the president tells us to do,' Hoyer said. But acknowledging political realities, he added: 'If he vetoes and we can't override the veto, then we have to go in some other direction.'

"In every case, Bush's veto powers or senators' filibuster powers have forced Democrats to retreat. . . .
The likes of Hoyer simply STILL don't get the realities of politics today.

First off. Congresspeople assume that if they are elected, the only thing they are supposed to do is pass legislation. If they pass lots of legislation they've been "successful". That is a fallacy. In the current session of Congress no one with any knowledge of politics had any large expectation that major legislation would be passed. The majority is simply too thin and the pugilism of Republicans too profound. My expectation was that this session would be marked by an opportunity to stop Bush, investigate, and use the bully pulpit.

Which brings me to the second and more key issue. Democrats have been awful at not using the media. If the situation were reversed and Democrats were obstructing, do you honestly believe that the Republicans would be sitting back and trying to "find a way" to get along? Hell no. Anyone remember the hub hub over the "nuculur option" and Democratic obstructionism during Bush's first term? They'd be all over the media spewing froth about the obstructionist Democracts, fireballing at every opportunity the opposition.

And the media would be eating it up with a spoon. And it would be working to sway the electorate.

Congressional Dems, by-in-large, have done a fair job stopping Bush and a good job investigating. But they've been awful and timid at using the Republican obstructionism as a political lever to either force Republicans to capitualte or to make the case to the American voting public. Another opportunity lost and even more reason to elect more and better democrats. I'm sorry that political discourse comes down to getting media attention via spectacular media trash. But you live in the world you're given, not the one you want.

Update: This says it all.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Geeky Chart That Matters

This is from the ETF Digest Daily Summary. "DBA" is a basket of agricultrual commodities and the chart is reflective of prices of those commodities. Note the little bubble that suggests that there is currently a six week inventory of wheat right now due to problems in Australia and ethanol production (thanks George).

Be prepared for food prices to continue to climb significantly down the road.



If this wasn't so pathetic it would be funny.

Republicans have been thoroughly obstructionist in Congress thinking this gives them an advantage in the upcoming election. They've perfected the art of stopping legislation through the "F" word (funny, you never hear about the "F" word in the media anymore) such that when legislation on the Alternative Minimum Tax was proposed, they blocked it ..... even though Democrats had acquiesced (another pathetic trend) to all the GOP's demands.


Torture Part Deux

I wrote a bit yesterday about the revelation by a former intelligence officer that torture was used by the CIA and that it "worked". Dan Froomkin has a very salient commentary on that story today:

[Brian Ross, ABC News] Ross asked Kiriakou to say a bit more about those thwarted attacks: "Were they on US soil? Were they in Pakistan?"

Kiriakou replied: "You know, I was out of it by then. I had moved onto a new job. And I-- I don't recall. To the best of my recollection, no, they weren't on US soil. They were overseas."

But where's the evidence?

Like Kiriakou, Bush last year described Zubaydah as a senior terrorist leader who divulged crucial information under questioning.

But, as I wrote in Friday's column, Bush and the Torture Tapes, investigative reporter Ron Suskind has written that Zubaydah was a mentally ill minor functionary, and that most if not all of the information he provided to the CIA was either old news -- or entirely made up.

There are many reasons why Americans should be skeptical about assertions that terrorist attacks were thwarted as a result of what administration officials would call "enhanced interrogation." (I enumerated some of the reasons last month at, where I am deputy editor.)

But it all boils down to the fact that, so far, no one from Bush on down has come up with a single documented example of American lives saved thanks to torture.

To me, it doesn't matter if torture works or not, it's wrong. But in this case (like most things Bush), it appears to be highly suspect that the torture actually resulted in good information.


New Bush Coins

Oh, this is too funny. You've got to watch this.


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Did You Know?

Did you know that the Washington Post is still harping on the Edwards $400 haircut thing?



Ned Parker writes in the Los Angeles Times:

"The U.S. troop buildup in Iraq was meant to freeze the country's civil war so political leaders could rebuild their fractured nation. Ten months later, the country's bloodshed has dropped, but the military strategy has failed to reverse Iraq's disintegration into areas dominated by militias, tribes and parties, with a weak central government struggling to assert its influence. . . .

"'Iraq is moving in the direction of a failed state, a highly decentralized situation -- totally unplanned, of course -- with competing centers of power run by warlords and militias,' said Joost Hiltermann of the International Crisis Group. 'The central government has no political control whatsoever beyond Baghdad, maybe not even beyond the Green Zone.'"

Yep. And while I agree the violence is down, it's far from gone. And just what does everyone think is going to happen when the U.S. leaves? Oh. I forgot. We're going to stay there forever, or least until all Americans are broke.


Follow The Bouncing Ball

This is hilarious:

The NYT fronts word that lawyers at the CIA's clandestine branch approved the destruction of the tapes, which had hundreds of hours of footage. (The WP says most are of a detainee alone in his cell.) A former senior official tells the NYT that there had been discussions about the tapes with different agencies for two years, and both White House and Justice Department lawyers had advised against destroying the tapes. But since they weren't ever given a direct decision, the head of the clandestine branch decided to go ahead with their destruction after a lawyer within the same department said he had the proper authority. The top CIA lawyer was not asked to approve the move, which several former officials said was more than a little surprising.
Now everyone but some obscure department head can claim they "don't know nuthin' about the birthin' of no babies".


Shouldn't Need To Say

This is an issue that troubles me. And what I'm about to say should be so ingrained in our culture as to not even need mentioning. But, we're not in a Utopia. From Today's Papers:

The Washington Post fronts the Supreme Court decisions but leads with a former CIA officer speaking out about water-boarding. John Kiriakou, a former interrogator, said the first high-level al-Qaida detainee was defiant for weeks but broke down 35 seconds after the water-boarding started. Although the information he gave "probably saved lives," Kiriakou now says that he considers water-boarding to be torture, and "Americans are better than that."
One of the hallmarks of citizen government is that it's messy, inefficient and requires prodigious amounts of courage. A dictatorship (on either end of the political spectrum) is much more efficient and simple. But one of the important and necessary elements of a culture that harbors citizen government is that it's citizens must be courageous. Whether it's in your personal dealings or in social contracts, being willing to stay true to democratic values can be quite a difficult and dirty proposition at times, requiring great moral rectitude.

Torture is one such issue. Study after study has shown that torture doesn't work. But let's assume it does for a moment (as in the situation cited above). It's the old "does the ends justify the means" discussion. Do we sell out our values or have courage to take the risks associated with being true to ourselves?

I contend that this is the same issue at work in the death penalty debate. Alas and unfortunately, America continues to fall short of it's values showing a distinct lack of courage. I fear the situation is only getting worse as great affluence has resulted in pandering to our greed and worst natures. And unfortunately, these are the things of dictatorship.


Monday, December 10, 2007

Libby Drops Appeal

Convicted liar Scooter Libby is dropping his appeal. Why? Here's what his attorney says:

"We remain firmly convinced of Mr. Libby's innocence," attorney Theodore Wells said. "However, the realities were, that after five years of government service by Mr. Libby and several years of defending against this case, the burden on Mr. Libby and his young family of continuing to pursue his complete vindication are too great to ask them to bear."
Ah huh.

And I have a bridge that I'd like to sell ya.

The fix is in. Pardon here we come!

Update: If you'll remember, the reason given by Bush that he won't comment on Libby is due to a "pending appeal". Well, given that, I'm positive that now Bush will hold a press conference and fully discuss the Plame outing.


Don't Get It

William Arkin has put his finger on a very important flaw in U.S. foreign policy in the middle east.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates attended a middle eastern conference and gave a speech that was largely derisive of Iran. At the end of the speech was a Q&A in which Gates got a very pointed question.

Rather, the notable moment came during the subsequent question-and-answer session, when Bahraini Labor Minister Majeed al-Alawi asked him whether he thought "the Zionist [Israeli] nuclear weapon is a threat to the region" the way a potential Iranian nuclear weapon would be.

"No, I do not," Gates said. "I think Israel is not training terrorists to subvert its neighbors. It has not shipped weapons into a place like Iraq to kill thousands of innocent civilians covertly. So I think that there are significant differences in terms of both the history and the behavior of the Iranian and Israeli governments."

His answer was greeted by laughter and derision.
Laughter indeed because his answer is a joke. Like a parent who lies to their children, statements like Gates simply highlight American bias or naivete, weakening any possible authority we may have in the region. Until the U.S., and more generally the so-called "western countries", begin to view Israel in a more even-handed way, the problems of the middle east will persist and our ability to change anything there will dissapate.



WaPo is doing another hit piece on earmarks and is shocked to report that majority leaders get more of what they want.

I've always contended that one person earmark is another persons key important legislation. I certainly believe that a greater degree of transparency and accountability is needed in earmark oversight. But earmarks have taken on the patina of a dirty word when in fact they often are key parts of the representative legislative function.


SS Disability

I found this interesting:

The New York Times leads with a look at how appealing an initial rejection of Social Security disability claims can now take as long as three years. About two-thirds of those who are initially turned down get the decision reversed on appeal, but the long wait times leave "hundreds of thousands of people in a kind of purgatory" waiting for a resolution while frequently facing mounting financial hardship.
I remember working with individuals who were involved with social security disability. It was standard practice for initial claims to be denied. I don't know if it was "policy" per se, just standard operating procedure. There is an entire legal industry that has developed around the appeal process. This story is certainly not new, but I think it's worth a look in terms of ways that benefit programs put obstacles in the way to attaining benefits.


Sunday, December 9, 2007

Quote Of The Day

Boy did Obama get this right .....

"That would be a demotion."

-- Sen. Barack Obama, quoted by Time, in response to calls for Oprah Winfrey to be his running mate.


An Oldie But A Goodie

Paul Krugman on who invented the internets.


A Metaphor

Do you think this is a metaphor for something?

The Pentagon is closing down three of the 20 NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) early-warning radar sites in northern Alaska because the ground they’re built on in some cases is literally crumbling into the Arctic Ocean as a result of erosion caused by waves on ice-free waters, military officials at the U.S. Northern Command tell me. One site, Point Lonely, a short-range radar on Alaska’s North Slope, was closed specifically because of soil erosion. In two other cases, short-range radars in Bullen Point and Wainwright, are being shuttered for both erosion and budget reasons.
A metaphor on many many levels.



Isn't it just another statement of our times, and shallowness, that Oprah Winfrey could draw such buzz from the media when she appears with a presidential candidate? Can someone explain to me why Oprah's political opinion is anymore valuable than the local McDonalds cashier?



How about this little gem:

Since September 2002, the CIA has been briefing Congress' "Gang of Four"—senior members of the House and Senate intelligence committees (including Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.)—on the use of "advanced interrogation techniques" and secret overseas prisons. It's not clear what the group was told, but their attitude was one of "quiet acquiescence, if not outright support." After press leaks in 2005, they started to voice concerns, prompting the CIA to brief other committee members as well.
I'm not sure just how true this is, but it wouldn't surprise me. It's simply stunning just how nuts this country went after 911. It's a reminder that democracy and civil liberties are very very fragile, just as fragile as human nature.