Friday, February 22, 2008

A Little Trip

.... down memory lane. Remember this pic?

Look carefully .... in the background.

That's right. It's the famous Cruella deVil aka Katherine Bushgirl Harris. But here's the interesting part. Do you know who's she canoodling with?

Why, that would be the very married (and with 12 kids no less) Rick Rienzi (R-natch Arizona), who was today indicted for wire fraud and money laundering!


Who Does Osama Want?

Fox News (consider the source) has done a poll on who Americans think that Osama bin Laden wants to win the Presidential campaign:

A new Fox News poll asks Americans which presidential candidate they believe is the favorite of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Not surprisingly, the poll concludes that the terrorists prefer Democrats:

Who is Usama Rooting For?

Who does Usama bin Laden want to be the next president? More people think the terrorist leader wants Obama to win (30 percent) than think he wants Clinton (22 percent) or McCain (10 percent). Another 18 percent says it doesn’t matter to bin Laden and 20 percent are unsure
It's highly speculative at best, but I have a few opinions on the matter (of course).

There has been nothing better for Osama bin Laden and the radical fundamentalist Muslim movement than George Bush. Any reasonable response to al Qaeda would keep them a two bit group of nuts and weaken their base of support, the Arab street. Bush put them on the map, gave the fundamentalist movement legitimacy, momentum and tons of international popular support. Sure, they've lost some martyr's to a so-called "tough" approach, but look at the current state of Islamic fundamentalism. After years of a Bushian strategy, they're stronger than ever, have a shot at regional control (Afghanistan/Pakistan) and are strong in Iraq. As as a little extra added bonus, the Shiite Islamic fundamentalists have grown in power and influence under Bush as well.

So who would Osama want to win? I think it's McCain hands down. To take it one step further, it wouldn't at all surprise me to see some sort of U.S. domestic terrorist threat or attack prior to November.


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Rough Ride

Yglesias (via Atrios)

Obviously, I don't know whether or not McCain had sex with Iseman. I suppose by "what the meaning of the word 'is' is" standards, he didn't even deny having had sex with Iseman. Certainly it'd be a bit rich of McCain to get outraged that anyone would even suggest that he might engage in sexual improprieties. After all, it's well known that he repeatedly cheated on his first wife Carol, of a number of years, with a variety of women, before eventually dumping her for a much-younger heiress whose family fortune was able to help finance his political career. That's well known, I should say, except to the electorate, who would probably find that this sort of behavior detracts from McCain's "character" appeal.

Meanwhile, there's all this stuff Salter doesn't deny (because, again, it's true) about McCain's questionable ethics. He wrote "letters to government regulators on behalf of the [Iseman's] client," he "often flew on the corporate jets of business executives seeking his support," he resigned as head of a non-profit when "news reports disclosed that the group was tapping the same kinds of unlimited corporate contributions he opposed, including those from companies seeking his favor," his Senate office and his campaign are run by corporate lobbyists, etc.
Meanwhile, some are asking if this is a Huckabee ratfuck? Good question? As Yglesias said above, the story of McCain philandering has been around awhile. And the NYTimes knew about the story months ago but held off publishing. Why? Perhaps the Times needed a more bulletproof source, who happen to just come along .....

I can prove that our Presidents are insane. How? Because anyone who would even run should have their heads examined.


Quote of the Day

Regarding John McCain:

“He’s been in bed with lobbyists for quite some time"
Christy Hardin Smith



Anyone remember that little military enbranglement we've got going?

On Tuesday evening, 3 US troops were killed when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb in northwestern Baghdad (a Sunni Arab area). Another was killed on Wednesday by an RPG attack in Mosul, which left 3 other US troops wounded. Later on Wednesday a fifth US soldier was killed within 24 hours; he appears to have been killed by a roadside bomb somewhere south of Baghdad, but the exact circumstances of his death were not announced.


While I'm Ranting ....

Bonddad makes a very very good point about unemployment today.

However, on the employment picture I'm not sure we're going to get really high unemployment. According to the NBER the last recession ended in November 2001. However according to the BLS, employment growth really didn't start meaningfully increasing until 2003. According to the BLS's employment level information, there were 137,778,000 jobs in January 2001 and 137,417,000 in January 2003 -- a decrease of 361,000. By January 2004 the total jobs numbers were 138,463,000. So the job market was seriously lagging after the end of the latest recession.

I have a working theory about the job market this expansion. Employers really held back on hiring this time around. Instead of mass hiring, they really worked at increasing their overall productivity and used that instead of a massive round of hiring. When it became more and more obvious that they needed more employees, employers added as few as possible, instead relying on the increase in productivity combined with fewer employees.

As a result, we now have a lot of employers who are wedded to a high productivity/low labor input model. But this model uses a very high level of employee/productivity interaction. That means any loss of employees will lead to bigger losses in productivity and therefore bigger losses in profit.

As a result, employers can't start a massive round of layoffs. Cuts to the labor force will happen very slowing if at all. As a result, we're not going to see sky high unemployment this time around, although we will see an increase.
This sounds about right and is the ironic flip side of the coin. The employment recovery has been tepid, but the unemployment fall will also be tepid. Add to this the fact that the job mix has changed from higher paying middle-class jobs to lower paying service sector jobs. Unemployment may not be the big problem it's been historically. But that doesn't mean that average people won't be under tremendous stress anyway.


Unexpected Consequences

I just wanted to take a second and pontificate expand on my crowing about stagflation.

Normally, markets respond to simple supply and demand. Thus, if there are wheat shortages prices rise. When wheat is in oversupply prices fall. But what happens when unexpected outside forces affect the market?

Let's take wheat. Bush, in his typical simplistic/stupid/naive policy thinking, announced the national "grow our way out of the energy problem" program a couple of years ago. Grow corn, make ethanol and we'll have abundant renewable energy! And not a single mid-western Senator objected. Consequently, growers by the gazillion have switched from wheat production to corn (follow the money baby). As a consequence, wheat stocks are at historic lows, farmers are getting rich while consumption worldwide continues to grow (afterall, those new Chinese consumers are going to want their Big Macs too!). Having recently been diagnosed as allergic to wheat and corn, I can personally tell you that there are few foods that do not have either corn or wheat in them.

Never mind the lousy economics of growing corn for ethanol, or the lousy energy payback, or the current glut in ethanol that has ethanol prices in the toilet, the unintended consequence of the "grow energy" policy is now putting enormous inflationary pressure on the economy ..... even as domestic demand slows. Because of the simplistic government policy, prices are inflated artificially even during a time when a slowing economy should result in lower prices. This is how stagflation occurs.

The same phenomena is at work in oil, corn and other commodities. And Bernanke, like pre-Paul Volker Fed chairmen think that the solution is to print more money and lower interest rates which will only pour gasoline on the fire. It will be interesting to see how bad it gets before someone who understands complicated policy consequences comes along and rights the ship. The last time it took Volker, who raised interest rates into the double digits areas instituting a severe recession, to tame the stagflation beast.

Oh, and it took ending the black hole expenditures of an endless war too.


Capitalist Socialism

If you've ever doubted that socialism for the rich exists, give this a read.

The short version is that the government is quietly bailing out the banks who are "too big to fail" while the average schmoo homeowner is screwed.


This Is Funny

Many have expressed skepticism that the administration would undertake such an expensive and complex operation to shoot down a satellite for something that carried a negligible risk. Some have suggested the Pentagon wanted to test its capabilities a year after China shot down an aging weather satellite, while others say it had to do with testing missile defense technology. "This is only conceivable if you can imagine that the people who are in charge of intelligence-gathering might attempt to mislead the American public," writes the NYT's Gail Collins.
This sounds like a line from a Jay Leno monologues.

Added, via Froomkin:
"The detailed rationale given by administration officials for the shoot-down makes little more sense. USA 193 carries on board a tank of hydrazine, the fuel U.S. satellites use to change orbit in space. . . . Hydrazine is moderately toxic, with effects akin to chlorine gas. The hydrazine cloud from USA 193's tank would, if released, diffuse over an area of roughly two football fields. The cloud would dissipate in minutes. Nevertheless, we are told, that is the risk that impelled President Bush to order the satellite's midair destruction."
They lie as easily as they talk.

Added II: Arkin points out that no one is taking a look at the enormous amount of money being spent on the grossly failed program that spawned the failed satellite in the first place.



Who in their right mind could have predicted this?

For those who think a recession is the worst thing that could happen to the U.S. economy, the NYT and WSJ both front looks at increasing fears that the country could enter into a period of stagflation. The United States hasn't experienced this dreaded mixture of rising inflation and unemployment coupled with slumping growth since the 1970s, and the prospect raises big questions for the Federal Reserve because it can't deal with one problem without making the other one worse. "They are walking a very fine line right now," an expert tells the NYT.
Let's see. Protracted and very expensive war/occupation overseas .... check. No higher taxes to pay for said war .... check. Continued domestic spending like there's no tomorrow .... check. Oil prices going through the roof due to other than purely market forces .... check. Is it 1975 or 2008? Who could have ever predicted?


Cut Off At The Knees

I live in daily fear of this happening to me:

USA Today leads with a look at how several states are in the process of passing laws that would limit the ability of companies to cancel health insurance policies of consumers who buy their own coverage. Due to a recent increase in complaints about the practice, many state lawmakers are trying to figure out how they can make it harder for insurers to cancel policies.
Fortunately for me, California is one of those states. But what about other's in other states ...... ?



Rumor alert:

Lots of buzz about this woman, who is a Washington lobbyists, being very close to John McCain. Whether it's sexual of just bidness, it's not good if true.

Iseman, 40, who joined the Arlington-based firm of Alcalde & Fay as a secretary and rose to partner within a few years, often touted her access to the chairman of the Senate commerce committee as she worked on behalf of clients such as Cablevision, EchoStar and Tribune Broadcasting, according to several other lobbyists who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

McCain, after his unsuccessful 2000 campaign, has emerged as the front-runner for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination. His reputation as a crusader for Washington reform -- forged during almost 30 years in the Senate -- is based largely on his stinging critiques of the role played by lobbyists. He routinely decries earmarks, or pet projects, inserted into legislation. He has claimed repeatedly that he has "never, ever done a favor for any lobbyist or special interest group." It was this reputation that McCain's closest aides sought to protect.

"We were running a campaign about reforming Washington, and her showing up at events and saying she had close ties to McCain was harmful," said one aide.
She does look a bit like Ciiiindeeeeee.

Added: This in an interesting comment from Slate discussing the odd way the NY Times story is contructed:
The NYT then waits until near the end of the story to go back to the relationship with the lobbyist. Overall, the paper presents surprisingly little evidence that there actually was inappropriate behavior beyond the concerns of some staffers, which makes one wonder what was left out of a piece that was undoubtedly heavily vetted by lawyers. Of course, McCain and Iseman both deny there was any kind of romantic involvement, and yesterday his campaign issued a statement calling the story "a hit-and-run smear campaign."
Well, we have a possible career maker for a journalist with the stones to investigate.

As an aside, I don't agree that McCain's screwing around is really any more relevant than Clinton or any other politician. Frankly, I think it's no one's business but the candidates spouse. But those aren't the rules of the game as it's played today. Live by the sword, die by the sword.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Make Me

Digby cites a point today that Tom Hartmann has been routinely making on his daily radio show:

There's a famous story about FDR meeting with a group of reformers trying to persuade him to support one of their goals. After they finished speaking, FDR said to them, "You've convinced me. I want to do it. Now make me do it."

We need to remember that -- that the next president will do the right thing only if there are incentives (in the form of massive political pressure) for him or her to do so.
This is important to remember no matter who the nominee's are, no matter who wins. The partisanship boiling in the Democratic party is largely wasted energy as I really think that most voters would be ok with either Obama or Clinton. The key isn't going to be which one. The real question is going to be how we're going to make them do what we want?


Quote Of The Day

I wonder if David Shuster, the guy suspended for claiming that Chelsea Clinton was being "pimped out", might have some thoughts on this quote from Bill O'Reilly:

I don't want to go on a lynching party against Michelle Obama unless there's evidence, hard facts, that say this is how the woman really feels. If that's how she really feels -- that America is a bad country or a flawed nation, whatever -- then that's legit. We'll track it down.
I kid you not, he said that. Outrage. Anyone? Anyone?



The other day I was watch the Lehrer Newshour, a show that usually does a pretty good job. However, Lehrer had a wet-kiss piece on the Gitmo trials. They interviewed some Pentagon mouthpiece (without any opposition) who gave out the company lines that the Gitmo prisoners would get fair military trials, just like the boys in uniform do.

Well, someone seems to disagree:

Top Gitmo lawyer: ‘We can’t have acquittals.’

Col. Morris Davis resigned his position as chief prosecutor for Guantánamo Bay’s military commissions after being placed under the command of torture advocate William J. Haynes. As a result of a conversation he had with Haynes in 2005, Davis tells The Nation that he doesn’t believe “the men at Guantánamo could receive a fair trial“:

“I said to him that if we come up short and there are some acquittals in our cases, it will at least validate the process,” Davis continued. “At which point, [Haynes’s] eyes got wide and he said, ‘Wait a minute, we can’t have acquittals. If we’ve been holding these guys for so long, how can we explain letting them get off? We can’t have acquittals, we’ve got to have convictions.’”

Anyone who thinks these will be fair trials needs their heads examined. Let's put it another way, if these trials are so fair with the military bending over backwards to offer justice, why not have the defendents tried in American civil court with civilian rules of justice?


With Hardly A Peep

We have this lovely story:

Bush Approval Hits Record Low

A new American Research Group poll shows just 19% of Americans approve of the way President Bush is handling his job as president and 77% disapprove. These are the lowest ever approval marks in the survey's history.


Heating Up

No, not the primaries. But NPR is publishing this rumor:

Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is expected to announce his decision in the next few days about whether to maintain the ceasefire he ordered six months ago. There has been pressure from rank-and-file members of his militia to end it.
Put that in the context of what William Arkin is reporting. Arkin suggests that the American military is setting in place a "pause" to the withdrawal of the escalated troop deployments and the implementation of permanent American bases in Iraq. The recent "pause" in the Iraqi war just may be about to end. Arkin also discusses how the Pentagon hawks are setting these changes in motion so that the next President will have "his/her hands tied".


Primary Analysis

This sums it up pretty nicely:

The most revealing aspect of the Wisconsin vote was how Obama continued to take away voters from Clinton's base, which could spell trouble for her in the Texas and Ohio primaries on March 4. The candidates pretty much split the votes from women, while Obama had a significant advantage among men. Also, Obama defeated her by a wide margin among voters with incomes of less than $50,000 as well as those without college degrees, two groups that had been essential to Clinton's past victories. Slate's John Dickerson says that by winning "in every key geographical area and across racial and gender lines" Obama has proved that "he is not just the boutique fascination of young people and wealthy elites."

The NYT says Clinton will now need to pull off "double-digit victories to pick up enough delegates to close the gap." If Wisconsin is any guide, "the next two weeks could be the most negative of the Democratic race," says the Post. After losing yesterday's primary, Clinton didn't mince words and launched what the LAT calls "her most lancing election night critique of Obama yet." But the line of attack was hardly new, as she once again chose to call attention to Obama's inexperience, which, as the NYT points out, is an argument she has made many times before, but it doesn't appear to be resonating with voters.
There's a singing fat lady tuning up her vocal chords right now.


The New Pakistan

Preznit Bush may not be happy about this:

Meanwhile, in Pakistan, the winners of Monday's election made it clear there are lots of changes in store, says the New York Times in its lead story. The leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party said his party would seek to hold talks with militants in the country's tribal areas and move away from a reliance on the military that is widely seen as following orders from the United States. He also said the new parliament would quickly restore independence to the judiciary and get rid of restrictions on the media.
Put another way, it sounds like they'll pursue a rational strategy to deal with insurgency in their own country, particularly by distancing themselves from you-know-who.


Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Now tell me. Just why in the world would the nation's highest court not want to hear a case regarding one of the nations hottests legal issues?

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Supreme Court on Tuesday turned down a legal challenge to the warrantless domestic spying program President George W. Bush created after the Sept. 11 attacks.

The American Civil Liberties Union had asked the justices to hear the case after a lower court ruled the ACLU and other groups and individuals that sued the government had no legal right to do so because they could not prove they had been affected by the program.

The civil liberties group also asked the nation's highest court to make clear that Bush does not have the power under the U.S. Constitution to engage in intelligence surveillance within the United States that Congress has expressly prohibited.

"It's very disturbing that the president's actions will not be reviewed by the Supreme Court," said Jameel Jaffer, director of the ACLU's National Security Project. "Allowing the executive branch to police itself flies in the face of the constitutional system of checks and balances."

A truly shocking development.


Pretty Good Summary

Here's is Juan Cole's bottom line take on the down-in-the-weeds results of the Pakistani elections:

Bottom line, the Pakistani public has demonstrated a dislike of extremism, including religious extremism, awarding a plurality of seats in the national legislature to secular parties and the rest to right-of-center parties, but roundly rejecting the fundamentalists.

Even though the PPP and PMLN likely won't have the votes to impeach Musharraf, he is in for a bumpy ride and it would be much better for everyone if he would recognize the writing on the wall and step down.
An anti-extremist vote, in this case, also refers to a repudiation of the U.S. and it's position in the region.



If you pay close attention to today's headlines, you'll get a very intense history lesson filled with irony.

The two big stories I'm reading are the drubbing of Pakistan's strongman Perez Musharraf in the general election, and the retirement of Fidel Castro. Musharraf is going down because, like anyone else close to the radioactive U.S., he's unpopular and ineffective. Castro is merely retiring at 81 after a long tenure on the world stage. Both are strongmen.

The cold war tactics of the "end justifies the means" and the use of military muscle as the way to affect the world have been consistently proven ineffective. Castro proved that savy politics, good P.R., and popular support are able to overcome the largest Pentagon budgets in the history of the world. Musharraf has proven that even with the support of the largest military machine in the history of mankind, you're a paper tiger and destined to fail.

Meanwhile, the U.S. continues to show it's incredible lack of any kind of savy by sending predator drones to kill the latest, greatest, al Qaeda high value target.

You'd think we'd learn. Maybe we will. But it seems that, at least during the last 100 years or so, it's been two steps forward (the Roosevelt administration), two steps back (the cold war), two steps forward (post-cold war) and two steps back (post 911).


I'm Back

Sort of.

In addition to my multiple new allergies, entirely new diet, and cold that turned into some pretty nasty bronchitis, things are swell in greyhairville. At least I can climb the stairs to the computer without a couple of rest stops along the way ...

Anyway, I ran across this nifty little chart. As you likely know, it's pretty much accepted that the government lies about inflation. Back in the 90's, we changed the way inflation is measured. Why? Call it head in the sand syndrome. Anyway, here's a chart showing what inflation would be like under the "old" measurements:

Doesn't a real current inflation rate of around 12% sound about right?