Friday, December 21, 2007

All But ....

Chrysler. All but bankrupt.


Oh The Irony .....

Atrios points this out, which only makes sense:

Nov. 8 (Bloomberg) -- Washington Mutual Inc. got what it wanted in 2005: A revised bankruptcy code that no longer lets people walk away from credit card bills.

The largest U.S. savings and loan didn't count on a housing recession. The new bankruptcy laws are helping drive foreclosures to a record as homeowners default on mortgages and struggle to pay credit card debts that might have been wiped out under the old code, said Jay Westbrook, a professor of business law at the University of Texas Law School in Austin and a former adviser to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

``Be careful what you wish for,'' Westbrook said. ``They wanted to make sure that people kept paying their credit cards, and what they're getting is more foreclosures.''
File in "unintended consequences".

I find it astounding how conservatives continue to completely miss the boat on the current economy. Wealth creation in the U.S. today is dependent on consumer spending. This means that joe-six pack has to have money to blow or the economy tanks. Yet conservative policies are all about killing joe-six pack.


Corruption Fatigue

Not only have I not blogged about the latest scandal involving the White House and the destroyed CIA tapes, but I haven't even been reading about it. Oh, I've read some cursory stories. But the moment I do, I get this overwhelming feeling of "so what?". Put another way, "same shit, different day".

I applaud those who continue to follow the scandals with enthusiasm, passion and vigor. We really can't stop being outraged by such behavior. But I'm not sure I can personally keep up the energy just now.

Let me give you a short version of my take on the scandal. The CIA interrogation tapes showed:

1. the horrors of torture that would be shocking if shown publically,
2. that CIA torturers were really really good at it, smiles and all,
3. that the victim would say anything to get them to stop,
4. that the information provided was useless,

and finally

5. that the White House had meetings, including Bush, where the decision was made to destroy the tapes because of their potential for criminal legal liability by everyone involved.

It's really that simple.

And the investigation will go nowhere because fundamentally, everyone has corruption fatigue.

Added: Dana Perino's faux outrage at the NY Times is typical Rovian strategy to divert attention from the reality, and a joke. Stage left, enter Claude Rains from Casablanca.



This is just a quickie followup on my throw-away comment about Alan Greenspan. Here's a quote from the man:

In a 1963 essay for Ms. Rand’s newsletter, Mr. Greenspan dismissed as a “collectivist” myth the idea that businessmen, left to their own devices, “would attempt to sell unsafe food and drugs, fraudulent securities, and shoddy buildings.” On the contrary, he declared, “it is in the self-interest of every businessman to have a reputation for honest dealings and a quality product.”
Now, this was 1963 and maybe Big Al grew up a little after that. But his handling of the financial markets, particularly the mortgage businesses during his tenure as Fed chair would suggest that he didn't learn much.

Hey Al! Ever hear of a little book called "The Jungle"? I had to read it in 8th grade. Did you?


One Little Indicator

If economics makes you immediately look away, don't be afraid of this post. It's a simple explanation of what it means when credit markets "seize".

If you pay attention to economic news, even on a cursory basis, you've likely heard there's a lot of "fear" or "lack of confidence" in the credit markets. What exactly does this mean?

This chart (click to enlarge) looks daunting, but it's really quite simple. It's a chart that measures the difference between the cost of money lent to high quality companies vs. riskier companies. As you can see, that "spread" has grown and is getting worse again. The spreads increase when economics look shaky.

This means that financial markets are getting very afraid that companies will fail, that defaults will grow and are therefore not lending. Think of it another way. This chart is a measure of the fear and lack of confidence by those in-the-know about how well business is doing.

Why does it matter to us? Because if these folks are afraid, then you should be afraid that there are really serious problems in the economy which could affect your job, your investments or your personal finances. This is why the Fed, Congress and apparently Bush are looking at ways to restore confidence. It's also why no one should ever buy Alan Greenspan's book.


Oh NO!

Please. Bear with me. I'm going to sound old and cranky for a minute.

Well .... like usual.

But that doesn't mean I'm wrong.

I saw two stories in the first five minutes in front of my computer this morning about Jamie Lynn Spears being pregnant. Both stories included quotes from mothers like this one:

Yasmine shook her head. "I never expected her, of all people, to do this," she said, referring to the girl who in her mind is both Zoey and Jamie, the actress who plays her. "She's supposed to be the good one in the family."

High school girls who had already had their hearts broken by the all-too-public life of Jamie Lynn's older sister, Britney, known as a hard-partying mother of two, worried that their younger sisters would be devastated by the news -- or, worse, that now their sisters might think it was "cool" to be 16 and pregnant.
This is BS. If you, as a parent, are worried that your children will be "devastated" by the news that Spears in pregnant at sixteen, then you're quite simply an inadequate parent. To leave your children to learn about the world and it's complications via Nickelodeon is, in my humble opinon, virtually child abuse.

Jamie Lynn Spears and her show are entertainment ferchristsakes, not real life and not real people. If you aren't talking to your child about sex by that age (and you can check out studies and statistics on this if you like) then you are begging your child to have sex prematurely. And if you haven't taught your child these realities by the time they are eight to twelve, then I promise you that you'll have a world of hurt with your children for the rest of your (and their) lives.

No wonder the country is in the state it's in.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Joke of the Day

Except it's not a joke. Britney Spears mother has a book coming out on parenting. You just can't make this s#@t up.


While We Were Out Shopping

The guerrilla movement in Iraq is generating a steady 600 attacks a week using bombs, small-arms, mortars and sniping. This number has not changed during the past six weeks, and although it is lower than the rate in September, it is a very significant number of attacks. Roadside bomb attacks in specific are down, but there is no change in the number of over-all attacks. The Iraqi government statistics show 600 civilian deaths a month (the US military's statistics are lower).


The Nut Of The Issue

This quote of Harry Reid speaks volumes:

"Mr. Reid said that in 40 years of public service he had not had a tougher relationship [with Bush].

"'He is impossible to work with,' the senator said. 'There are times I say: 'Is there something more I can do? Have I done something wrong?' But even his own people tell me he won't compromise.'"
This quote encapsulates the problem Democrats have with Republicans. The modern Republican party takes this dynamic and burns the opposition.

Here's the deal. It's a chronic condition in American culture to believe that an individual has some sort of control over others around them. It's stems from a cultural history of abusive parenting. When children are abused (at whatever level), they develop a fantasy that if the child had just done something different, they wouldn't have been hurt. For example, "if I had just picked up my toys before dad came home, my (drunk out of his mind) father wouldn't have beat the crap out of my mother" or, "if I was funnier my mother would have been happy". Parents unwittingly perpetuate the myth with blaming, lack of insight, dishonesty, and lousy communication that says to the child, "it's always your fault."

Put another way, it's a self protective mechanism that naturally occurs in kids to maintain a sense of power in the midst of a powerless situation . Without that power fantasy and survival sense, children simply will not thrive. This occurs to all children in all families. In healthy families, children (with the help of caregivers and significants in their lives) are taught that this fantasy is wrong, delusional, and not operational in the adult world.

But what if the fantasy is not un-learned? Taking that ingrained delusional myth into adult relationships is disastrous. And Harry Reid demonstrates one aspect of it. Reid's belief that, in some way as yet undiscovered after nearly eight years, if he just finds the right formula he can turn Bush around. That leaves Reid with a sense of power .... and incredible frustration as his fantasy is proven wrong over and over again. Yet, most adults will hang on to this mythic power-over-others fantasy despite all available life experience to the contrary (teaching old dogs new tricks anyone?) because the perceived risks of trying something different can be overwhelming (see: Democrats, captitulating over and over again). Incidentally, the Republican party and Bush demonstrate the same dynamic except they play the role of the abuser. But that's another post.

But Harry? You know what? Here's the fact.

Bush is a disordered individual that cannot be controlled or influenced except by being confronted. He, and his sort (see: Cheney, Rumsfeld, Addington et. al.) with the the help from the perceived power of some of the most disordered of people (spare the rod, spoil the child-evangelicals) have moved the Republican party in the direction of their pathology. They cannot be reasoned with, they can only be fought. Like an abusive husband, you can't change em'. You can only confront them and take care of yourself. And until the Democratic party learns this lesson, they will continue to be the whipping boys of the Republicans.


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Not Just Christmas

Too cool:



From the you-just-can't-make-this-crap-up file (via Kevin Drum):

According to the Pentagon, new focus group findings in Iraq have produced some good news: it turns out that Iraqis have a number of "shared beliefs" about their current situation that "cut across sectarian lines."

[ok now.... wait for it .... wait for it ...... waaaaaait]

Great! And what is this good news? "Iraqis of all sectarian and ethnic groups believe that the U.S. military invasion is the primary root of the violent differences among them, and see the departure of 'occupying forces' as the key to national reconciliation."

From the pentagon.


Things To Come?

Via Atrios:

Dem wins special election to Texas State House.

District went 34% to Gore in '00 and 36% to Kerry in '04.


Obama Health

Paul Krugman makes a very good case for Barack Obama not being a good potential leader on health care reform.


Oil Punked

I read two convincing blog posts (here and here) today about oil exploration and future oil production. Both predict a dramatic increase in exploration, drilling, and production in the coming years.

While making a very good case that oil prices, at least temporarily, have peaked, both are depending on new production outstripping increasing demand and decreasing production from current oil fields. And perhaps that's true despite the convincing arguments of peak oilers. But I digress.

My point in this post is I hope these folks are wrong about peaking prices. I'm quite sympathetic to consumers that have to pay higher prices and strain budgets to keep functioning. But really, has anything but higher prices worked to spur alternative development and conservation? It's my contention that a fall-back in oil prices is a bad thing causing people, as in the 1970's, 80's and 90's to be seduced into thinking that the petroleum economy is a good thing. It most definitely is not. Our oil dependency has led to climate destruction, immoral wars, pollution and community disconnect. I've always advocated moving away from a petroeconomy on a measured basis via government intervention. But if that's not possible (and clearly it isn't), then price will have to do it.


Just A Comment

Don't count John McCain out. He may be the least undesireable of the Republican bunch to Republicans. The latest fair haired boy is being thoroughly trashed by the conservative media as the "huckster", so maybe we'll be back to square one.


Chart Porn, Speaks For Itself

(click to enlarge)


Not A Good Sign

Given our economy is 70% based on the American pathology of compulsive shopping, this is worrisome:

Still haven't started on the Christmas shopping? No need to worry; you'll have plenty of time this weekend. Nervous retailers are keeping their stores open longer to encourage shoppers. Many stores will be open before dawn and close in the early hours of the morning, but some are choosing not to close at all. One Macy's store plans to stay open from 7 a.m. Thursday until 6 p.m. Monday. "There's a lot of desperation out there," said a retail expert. "This is a weird, wacky holiday."
Is fiscal sanity returning to the American household?


Nah ............


A Quick Anecdote

Related to the stupidity below, I have a short story for you.

I have a friend who just installed solar panels on his 1800 sq. ft. house. The cost, after rebates was pricey at $22,000, although that's about average for the purchase of a new car. But he now is energy independent. In fact, he returns electricity to the grid on a net basis.

Now what would happen if the U.S. (like Germany for example) committed to solar power? Suppose all new construction was required to be energy independent via solar power? At least two things would happen. First, the cost of solar installations would fall precipitously (see: flat screen tv's, DVRs, etc.). Second, our energy demands would fall through the floor. Oh, and btw, our mercury and CO2 emissions would also fall precipitously.

But noooooo. Let's go with ethanol!



From Today's Papers:

The energy bill also mandates a five-fold increase in ethanol production by 2022
Sigh .....

This particular movement is a poster child for two key elements in U.S. policy making. First, the power of corporations to push their agenda in Congress via the power of regional interests to thwart the needs of the whole. Big agriculture loves this provision because it will boost the price of corn big time while the midwest, which really probably shouldn't be farmed at all, is the recipient of a big Federal wet kiss. Bush's ethanol initiative has already caused a huge price increase in corn with a resulting inflationary response in all food prices.

The second element is ignorance. Making ethanol out of corn is horribly inefficient. The best case scenarios have the energy output barely equaling the energy input to produce ethanol (unlike sugar which is used to great effect in Brazil). But never mind the science, see element number one above.

Let me give you an investment tip. If this bio-energy movement continues, and it looks like it will for the foreseeable future, invest in agricultural commodities. Moo is one of my personal favorites.


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Lie As Easily As They Breathe

You know that meme floating around that torture actually works? Of course it's all a lie.

Added: By the way, the evidence is that not a single terrorist plot has been stopped by the Bush administration. Nada. And why would terrorist actually launch any attack when they have such a thorough self-destruction occurring while they release video-tapes?


In A Nutshell

Perfectly asked:

Is the Great Awakening inside the Sunni Arab community the road to Iraq's stability, or is it just a pause for Sunni rearmament and reorganization? Is it a means to secure American military bases inside an emerging Sunni client state generously supplied with cash from Saudi Arabia, a kind of cordon sanitaire along the fault line that separates the Sunni Arab world from Shiite Iran and its beachhead in southern Iraq? Does this development mean America wins when our former Sunni Arab enemies regain power in central Iraq? Or—here's the most disturbing question—will the presumed successes of today be catalysts for yet bloodier civil war inside Iraq or, worse, larger regional war?


Good News

Keeping in the spirit of shouting out good news, New Jersey residents and politicians had to good sense and moral rectitude to outlaw the death penalty!


What Atrios Said

First edition, shamelessly copied in full:

Jane has a good rundown on the absurdity of Reid's claim that Dodd's actions had nothing to do with the pulling of the telecom bill. And I want to highlight this bit from Glenn:
The most important value of victories of this sort is that they ought to serve as a potent tonic against defeatism, regardless of the ultimate outcome. And successes like this can and should provide a template for how to continue to strengthen these efforts. Yesterday's victory, temporary as it is, shouldn't be over-stated, but it also shouldn't be minimized. All of it stemmed from the spontaneous passion and anger of hundreds of thousands of individuals demanding that telecoms be subject to the rule of law like everyone else. And this effort could have been -- and, with this additional time, still can be -- much bigger and stronger still.
One of my pet peeves has long been a certain strain of defeatism. Understandably we all feel defeated at times, but there's a certain kind of defeatist out there on the internets, people who spend most of their time chastising others for thinking it's possible to have any influence and attacking the "stupidity" of those who even bother to try. Maybe those people are right. Maybe there never is anything to be done. But if that's the case, get a new goddamn hobby. It's rather odd to spend all your time following political news and blogs if the only reason to do it is to provide justification for your view that All Is Lost. Just go out and have some fun instead.
Yep. But it's not always easy when you've been bathed in defeat to keep up optimism. But I trudge forward anyway ......



How strange is it that the U.S. provides intelligence for Turkey to attack a country that we occupy?


Factoid of the Day

John Cook blogs for Radar Online: "Federal spending on paper shredding has increased more than 600 percent since George W. Bush took office."

How much of that, I wonder, was done here?


A Victory .....

.... of sorts:

In other news out of Capitol Hill, everyone notes that the Senate Democratic leadership delayed considering a new eavesdropping bill that would have given telecommunication companies retroactive immunity. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid decided to remove the bill after it became clear lawmakers wouldn't be able to work out their differences before the break. The bill will probably be debated again when Congress gets back to work in January.
My guess is that Reid is hoping the heat will calm down, and Chris Dodd will settle down, if he hides the bill for awhile. This means that we'll have to remain vigilant for when he brings it back to the floor.


Monday, December 17, 2007

Well Put

Kevin Drum made a statement today that is so right on I must reproduce it here. It's so fundamentally correct yet so misunderstood that it's pathetic:

[Bob] Kerrey wasn't suggesting that electing Obama would have any direct effect on hardcore al-Qaeda jihadists. But terrorists can't function unless they have a critical mass of support or, at a minimum, tolerance from a surrounding population. This is Mao's sea in which the jihadists swim. Without it, terrorists simply don't have enough freedom of movement to be effective, and their careers are short. It's why the Red Brigades in Italy and the Baader-Meinhof gang in Germany lasted only a few years, while the IRA in Ireland has lasted decades.
So-called "hard power" (as used by Drum) is the last resort, the resort of fools who have screwed up the real tools to eliminate extremism. Unfortunately we have many fools running our government right now.


The Surge In Shovel Sales

Needlenose picks up a very interesting story:

There's no question that violence across Iraq has declined: in December 2006, approximately 3,000 Iraqi civilians were killed across the country; this November about 600 were. But the problem—and the reason no one from U.S. commander Gen. David Petraeus on down is declaring victory yet—is that those statistics do not tell the whole story: [. . .] militias are making more of an effort to disguise their grisly handiwork—burying bodies in shallow graves, dumping them in city sewers. . . .

In the past two months, more than half a dozen mass graves have been found in Iraq, at least half of them in Baghdad. At one site discovered in late November, in a yard in Baghdad's Saydiya neighborhood, bodies and their severed heads were buried in two separate holes, according to a source at the Ministry of Interior who isn't authorized to speak on the record. An additional 16 bodies were found buried in a ditch north of Baghdad last Thursday.

. . . in the heat of the civil war, militias boldly advertised their slaughter. Bodies—headless, burned, slashed open and perforated with drill holes—were left in plain sight as a message to others. Now, with most Baghdad neighborhoods dominated by one sect or the other, the death squads can afford to be more subtle in their killing. . . .

The strategy also reflects some positive developments in Baghdad. With many more U.S. and Iraqi troops out on the streets, killers cannot be as brazen as before.
Why? Because the fundamental problems in Iraq remain and will remain until they decide to solve it. With the Americans in country, that decision to resolve the internal conflicts can be postponed indefinitely as the U.S. props up one side or the other.


This n' That

Did you know that Boltin' Joe has endorsed John McCain. What a shock.

The other news is that Chris Dodd is going to do a real filibuster in the Senate against the telecom immunity bill today (you can offer support here). Why? Dodd has to do the real thing because the Democratic leadership refuses to honor his "hold" and is ready to roll over. Will Dodd be successful? Probably not. But at least he gets it and is trying. I wonder if Hillary or Obama will go to the Senate to speak for awhile, helping Dodd to filibuster?

I have generally been supportive of Harry Reid. But within the last six months he's lost me. I'm done with him and about done with Pelosi. By the way, Reid honors the hold put on by Tom Coburn, (R, Nutbar-Oklahoma) of a bill with widespread support in the Senate while ignoring Dodd, a member of his own party.

Added: Looks like Huckleberry Graham's holds get honored too. This one to block a bill requiring the military to not torture.



Join Congressman John Wexler's call for Cheney Hearings here. Go. Do it.


Sunday, December 16, 2007


This is some really sick thinking.

It all sounds so logical, but it's pure nuts. Yet, like Kevin Drum, I agree that it's what we're up against and why I contend that we're always about an foot outside the jungle.

To prove this is crap, all you need to do is remember that former Israeli prime minister, and American darling, Menachem Begin once bombed the beejesus out of British troops.


Surveillance State

While we've all been shopping, Congress is giving the telecoms a big wet kiss:

The vast bulk of those on whom the Government spies have never been accused, let alone convicted, of having done anything wrong. One can dismiss those observations as hyperbole if one likes -- people want to believe that their own government is basically benevolent and "tyranny" is something that happens somewhere else -- but publicly available facts simply compel the conclusion that, by definition, we live in a lawless surveillance state, and most of our political officials are indifferent to, if not supportive of, that development.

That's precisely why our political class is about to bestow amnesty on telecoms which broke multiple laws in how they enabled the government to spy on us, even though what the telecoms did -- on purpose and for years -- is unquestionably illegal. Our political leaders in both parties plainly want this limitless surveillance to continue, and they don't think that telecoms do anything wrong even when they work with the government in spying on Americans in ways that are against the law.

And they're saying that explicitly. The legislation jointly created and about to be enacted by Jay Rockefeller, Dick Cheney, Congressional Republicans and Harry Reid -- with a vital assist from the Jane-Harman-led "Blue Dogs" in the House -- is all designed to conceal and protect this state of affairs and to enable it to grow.
And they're doing it despite this:
The N.S.A.’s reliance on telecommunications companies is broader and deeper than ever before, according to government and industry officials, yet that alliance is strained by legal worries and the fear of public exposure.
Many bloggers are now wondering if we won the cold war or not?


Pop Quiz

What's going to cost the U.S. more over the next decade: the exploding costs of entitlements like Social Security and Medicare or Bush's tax cuts?

Answer here.


Take The Blindfold

Via Digby, we have a story the perfectly summarizes the Democratic Congressional strategy in dealing with Bush:

Three Jews were going to be executed. They were lined up in front of a firing squad and the sergeant in charge asked each one whether he wanted a blindfold or not.

"Do you want a blindfold?" he asked the first. "Yes," he said, in a resigned tone.

"Do you want a blindfold?" he asked the second. "Ok," said the second.

"Do you want a blindfold?" he asked the third. "No," said the third.

At this point the second leaned over to the third one and said "Take a blindfold. Don't make trouble."


What Digby Said

This is another edition of what Digby said:

For some reason the political class and the gasbags don't seem to get what this means:

If we don't reform the health care system overall, that's what's going to happen.
I'll only add that this chart clearly demonstrates what a "problem" social security is ..... right?


I Told Ya

I told you hell wouldn't freeze over.



Why Iowa should be interesting:

Why Edwards Can Win Iowa

For months, John Edwards "has been rounding up support" in Iowa's "rural precincts where the front runners have paid less attention," Newsweek reports.

"While Obama and Clinton have drawn crowds in the thousands in places like Des Moines and Ames, Edwards has been winning over people in tiny towns like Sac City (population: 2,189). That's important, the strategists say, because under Iowa's arcane caucus rules, a precinct where 25 people show up to vote gets the same number of delegates as a place that packs in 2,500. In other words, even if he loses to Obama and Clinton in the state's bigger cities, he can still win by wrapping up smaller, far-flung precincts that other candidates have ignored."
Added: It looks like Edwards lost the Des Moines Registers endorsement due to his stand against corporate influence. That independent media at work again!