Saturday, December 29, 2007

Happy New Year, Earth

By Carol Gee

The year 2008 will be "crunch time" for the earth's healthier environment.
In small ways a few people people took a bit of climate control away from the Bush administration in recent months. Such news serves to wish a "Good 2008 to the Earth," if this trend continues. (Images from NASA)

Credit goes to these folks:

Al Gore -- Despite the fact that our current president (OCP) stole the 2000 election from Al Gore, our former Vice President stole the 2007 spotlight from OCP, winning the Nobel Peace Prize winner for his work to save the environment from the effects of potentially catastrophic climate change. Ellen Goodman wrote a great Gore tribute piece on Friday, December 28, 2007 that was published in the Boston Globe, and republished in Common Dreams titled, "War and Peace with the Environment." To quote:

Since this is the list-making time of year, allow me to add a tiny trophy to Al Gore’s very full shelf: the prize for the most elegant speech of 2007.

I wasn’t sure how the politician-turned-environmentalist fit the profile for a Nobel Peace Prize, but his acceptance speech connected the dots. “Without realizing it,” Gore said, “we have begun to wage war on the Earth itself. Now, we and the Earth’s climate are locked in a relationship familiar to war planners: mutually assured destruction.”

How many Americans actually heard these words of war and peace? The coverage from Oslo was overshadowed by the coverage from Iowa. The presidential campaigns used up the oxygen that might have been reserved for the greenhouse gases.

. . . In 2007, consciousness rose with the thermostat. Scientists layered one set of facts on another. Gore wrapped these facts into an attention-grabbing movie. After Bali, the world’s leaders are just waiting for this presidency to pass. But we are still waiting for the renewable energy to fuel election-year politics.

On the day Gore spoke to the Nobel audience, he said, “we dumped another 70 million tons of global-warming pollution into the thin shell of atmosphere surrounding our planet, as if it were an open sewer . . . We are what is wrong, and we must make it right.”

I still have a stack of greeting cards wishing Peace on Earth. Is it too corny to wish that we begin the new year making Peace with the Earth?

Congress -- Find the names of your House members who voted for the new Energy bill. Here are the vote results in the U.S. House of Representatives on December 18, 2007, for the Energy Independence and Security Act: 314 yeas, 100 nays and 19 not voting.

Delegates to Climate Talks in Bali -- A Guardian Unlimited (12/15/07) article about the recent Bali Climate Conference is a good summary of the "u-turn" the United States delegation was practically forced to make after being openly booed by the rest of the delegates. To quote:

A compromise deal for a new international climate change agenda was agreed at the UN summit in Bali today. . . Ministers from around 180 countries were united in accepting the agenda for a global emissions cuts agreement to launch negotiations for a post-2012 agreement to tackle climate change.

Consensus for the road map followed a dramatic U-turn by the US, which had threatened to block the deal at the 11th hour and been booed by other countries. It dropped its opposition to poorer countries' calls for technological and financial help to combat the issue. The sudden reversal by the US in the marathon talks which saw the country duelling with European envoys was met with rousing applause.

Scientists who find out what is true and talk about it -- In researching this post for today I discovered several interesting on line environmental resources:

One of the most interesting is "," a must for anyone the least bit interested in the earth sciences. introduced me to the great newsmaker website: "Carbon Tracker," unveiled in September by the Earth System Research Laboratory at NOAA. Their state map collection is another rich visual resource. It has a link to Google Earth, which I just downloaded today from Google Pack. Also included is a lot of good info regarding lands below sea level, and a link to Time Magazine's "Top Ten Scientific Discoveries of 2007."

You, my readers -- can do your part to wish the Earth a Happy New Year; check out your area's carbon foot-print at, "Making Your Neighborhood a Better World."

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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Who shot Benazir?

By Capt. Fogg

The short video clip of Benazir Bhutto's last moments shown over and over again on CNN last night does not reveal the exact cause of her death, but two observations are unavoidable: someone was firing a semi-automatic pistol at her from less than 5 feet away and the security personnel, presumably her own bodyguards, riding on the back of the vehicle, took no action other than to duck.

There are reports that police abandoned their posts shortly before the shots and the explosion and although the official story is that she had no bullet wounds, a top aide to Bhutto who helped prepare her body for burial says she clearly showed bullet wounds to the head. Could the shooter have missed three times at point blank range?

Of course the official explanation evokes the al Qaeda bogeyman, but that's just what Musharraf, eager to keep those billions flowing in and himself in power would say if he were somehow complicit. Can this, as a reader commented on Human Voices yesterday, be a false flag operation?
"We in effect helped -- helped -- precipitate this dynamic that led to her tragic assassination,"

said John Bolton, former ambassador to the UN on Fox News Thursday. I find myself in agreement. Having urged Bhutto to return to Pakistan and seek power, may have been another bloody consequence to the Neocon doctrine of creating democracy by toppling dictators. I don't know what will arise out of the current chaos, but history suggests many unsavory possibilities other than a quick return to calm and a restoration of democracy.

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

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Yes, Virginia, even sadder, Little Billy Kristol is going to the NYT

By J. Thomas Duffy

Boy, our poor little Christmas girl can't catch a break.

First, we have to confirm to her that Yes, Virginia, There Is, Sadly, A William Kristol ..., and now this drops on her.

The Huffington Post is reporting that Little Billy Kristol will be taking his craziness to the pages of the New York Times (Bill Kristol To Become New York Times Columnist In 2008), only a week after Time Magazine gave him the boot.

I suppose this was inevitable.

A great deal of Bush Grindhouse water has pooled up since Judy Miller left, so the NYT had a need for another water carrier, someone with a big bucket, someone with "Big Lying" credentials.

Apparently, David Brooks wasn't up to snuff, or that his "body language" thing has even creeped-out his co-workers.

Jonah Goldberg is currently unavailable, too busy sticking his head up his own ass.

They probably could have reached out and pulled in Coltergeist, but why risk seeing the building explode into flames?

Someone should go check on Arthur Schulzberger Jr., just to make sure he didn't hit his head on a SUV sunroof lever.

Bonus Bad News Billy Links

Anonymous Liberal: Kristol's Secret to Success

Anonymous Liberal: Bill Kristol: Pundit Superstar

Creature/State of The Day: The post in which my head explodes

Crooks and Liars: Bill Kristol is rewarded for being “wrong” on everything: NY Times gig is a comin’

Crooks and Liars: Bonus Bill Kristol Highlight Reel

It Takes A Neocon To Raise A Legacy ... They're Drinking The Kool-Aid Again ...

Of Legacy Maintenance - And Corrections! ... David Corn's "REBUTTAL - Why Bush Is A Loser"

(Cross Posted at The Garlic)

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Friday, December 28, 2007

Iowa's brand of democracy

By Edward Copeland

The Iowa caucuses are a strange beast in general, with multiple locations where Iowans brave whatever winter weather might be occurring to stand in a room and publicly declare their support for a candidate. However, what's not so well known is Iowans who work night shifts are disenfranchised BY STATE LAW. Their employers are not required to let them off to go vote. From the Des Moines Register story:

Ruth Kennedy's boss won't let her take time off from her night-shift job so she can caucus. She's not alone — emergency workers and other Iowans on the night shift will miss the marquee political event in Iowa.
Three weeks ago, Kennedy asked to leave her customer service job at Mediacom at 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 3 so she could caucus for Democrat Hillary Clinton. She said her supervisor waited until Christmas Eve to deny the request, saying that they couldn't spare her, that they hadn't had such requests before and that one fewer person at the caucus wouldn't make a difference anyway.
"It made me so furious," said Kennedy, who lives in Des Moines. "I raised such a fit I'm surprised they didn't send me home."
Nothing in the law requires Iowa employers to give workers time off so they can stand up for the presidential candidate of their choice.

In something that's certain to hurt Dodd, emergency services in Des Moines are fully staffing firefighters and then some for caucus night, meaning the union that endorsed him will have a lot of members unable to caucus.

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Two plus two equals a 17 foot wall

By Capt. Fogg

“We ought to have an immediate, very clear monitoring of our borders and particularly to make sure if there’s any unusual activity of Pakistanis coming into the country.”

Said Mike Huckabee here in Florida last night. He repeated the theme today in Iowa:

“When I say single them out I am making the observation that we have more Pakistani illegals coming across our border than all other nationalities except those immediately south of the border,”

The fact that this isn't close to being true is less amazing than the sheer irrationality of his non-sequiturs.

“The fact is that the immigration issue is not so much about people coming to pick lettuce or make beds, it’s about someone coming with a shoulder-fired missile,”

Sure, it is, only it hasn't happened nor has it been made more likely by an assassination in Pakistan any more than the assassination of President Kennedy made it more likely for Texans to sneak into Mexico carrying rockets. The fact that the Huckster thinks Afghanistan is east of Pakistan and confuses migrant fruit pickers with Islamic extremists from Waziristan, is only a small part of the evidence that the man has no idea what he is talking about but has a strong feeling that vague mumblings in an ominous tone will allow him to latch on to the Xenophobic and Nativist gravy train. That's just what we need to represent the United States' interests in the world; a dishonest idiot who thinks Jesus wants him in power and will do the thinking for him. Come to think of it, that's what we have been saddled with for these last seven years of bad luck, and that's what we customarily vote for.

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

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Leadership in a very flat world

By Carol Gee

Today is the funeral day for assassinated Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto. From space we cannot see people where they live and die. It is a very tragic and sad thing for her family and supporters, and certainly for her nation. But it is a sad day for us, as well, because of the flat world in which we live. The reality of her death reverberates far beyond Pakistan. Looking at the Middle East and Southwest Asia from far above reveals a two dimensional view in muted colors of sand and water. Two dimensions are flat; three dimensions reveal true perspective. When we first glimpsed the face of Benazir Bhutto, many of us instinctively held our breath, afraid to hear what was to come next.

(Aljazeera's image heads this paragraph)

Very quickly the world knew what was transpiring with this leader yesterday. Just after the Bhutto rally, the U.S. broadcast TV reports of the shooting and suicide bombing. As time passed the news got worse and worse. What we saw was coming from Aljazeera, from which I quote the beginning and ending portions of this very interesting and seemingly even-handed editorial:


Daughter of tragedy
By Kamran Rehmat (News Editor at Dawn News, an independent Pakistani television news channel).

What ever else the mind-numbing killing of Benazir Bhutto in Thursday’s suicide attack will mean for Pakistan’s future, there is little doubt that politics in this south Asian country will never be the same again.

. . . Bhutto may have been the first woman prime minister of a Muslim country but was twice ousted as premier on corruption charges, which she fought for the rest of her political life.

Ironically, it was only recently that corruption cases against her were "washed" clean courtesy of a controversial ordinance passed by Musharraf on the premise of national reconciliation but effectively seen as a means to win her support for his continued stay in power.

Regardless of what modus operandi appealed to her - and she took many that surprised even her family not to mention, her political adversaries - Bhutto remained a force to reckon with right until the end.

In her death, Pakistan may have lost its most potent political player, who remained at least for its vast moderate and secular population, their best hope.

Given the vitiated international climate vis-a-vis the war-on-terror for Islamabad, deep polarisation within the country and the institutional instability, her loss is colossal not just for Pakistan but for the rest of the world as well.

And very quickly following the news of Bhutto's death, leaders from around the world began to react. The presidents in Pakistan and the United States made statements. Leaders in the United States, and certainly other countries, made telephone calls to Pakistani leaders. And presidential candidates began to release statements or speak with the media on camera or by phone. And we instinctively knew to take the measure of their leadership capacity by how they reacted to the news of the death of this small and fierce unarmed woman halfway around our flat world.

Iowans will be meeting in caucuses in less than a week to make their choices for the POTUS. And the other primaries will quickly follow. It is entirely possible that these outcomes will be in large or small measure be influenced by the current news about the violence in Pakistan, and how the candidates behave as a result. It seems to me that the perspective provided by a reader's comment on my most recent S/SW post (12/19) on leadership -- cross-posted at at The Reaction -- is very apt for the current situation. The entire comment of "Ecophotos" follows:

Reaction: 1 Comment on "Behavior is an Indicator of Leadership Capacity"

Hi Carol,

My apologies for being late to this party, holiday diversions and all. A quick response to this post:

There is a lot of stuff being said about what we should expect from candidates with respect to comfort, character, consistency, and competitiveness.

My concern here is that most candidates repackage themselves according to the latest polls and focus group studies, and what we think we see is not always what we get. Ergo, a repeat of what we had. So I think an onus of responsibility should also be placed on voters to be more discerning. Here is a kind of inventory that voters should ask themselves:

Do you want a candidate who can govern effectively or one you can have a beer with?

Are you susceptible to propaganda, sloganeering, and sound bites, or do you read in search of veracity?

Are you swayed by artifice or authenticity?

Do you equate strength with arrogance or humility?

Voters should understand that elections are about "conquest and control" (no matter who wins); that all governments have a "primordial mean streak" and will violate their own stated principles when confronted with crisis. So the question is: Whose controls are more acceptable to you?

When I consider these criteria, I am able to narrow the field of candidates to one (not exactly one of the front-runners), but at least one in whom I have confidence. Unfortunately, we always get one based on popularity and consensus, never our first choice.

By ECOPHOTOS, at 12:09 AM

I close with some quick random thoughts. Senator Clinton's words seemed just exactly right for the moment. Senator Biden's words had a great deal of authority based on his vast knowledge. Senator Dodd's early words during a phone call with MSNBC carried a great deal of authoritative wisdom and subtlety. On the other hand, I was not impressed with John Edwards' report of a phone call directly to President Musharraf. Nor was I impressed by Senator McCain's litany of how much he knows about the situation, nor by Governor Romney's fear-mongering style of rhetoric. I plan to use Ecophotos' template for further study of all our candidates' potential for foreign policy leadership, based on their take on the current news from Pakistan.

My link to this article, "Non-violent protest has gone on line," in Common Dreams somehow seemed appropriate for today's post. It came to my notice a few weeks ago from my friend, "betmo," who always has a unique thoughts.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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A timely review

By Edward Copeland

As it so happens, I was planning to post on my film blog today a review of Charlie Wilson's War, which now proves particularly timely in the wake of Benazir Bhutto's assassination. A brief excerpt:

As a member of an important subcommittee, Wilson, almost on a whim, doubles the amount of U.S. dollars being spent on covert activities in Afghanistan. Wilson's action attracts the attention of a wealthy Houston socialite Joanna Herring (Julia Roberts), who is as right-wing and Republican as Wilson is not but has made the Afghan situation a cause aimed at winning the Cold War. She encourages Wilson to add a trip to Pakistan on to a planned junket to the Mideast so he can meet with Pakistani President Zia (Om Puri), the man who hanged the late Benazir Bhutto's father in a previous takeover in Pakistan.

To read the full review, click here.

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A Quickie

By Carl

In an effort to have Jonah Goldberg's book forever linked with...something unintended, Blogtopia (© Skippy, The Bush Kangaroo) has decided to Googlebomb it.

So here's to Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning , also known as Liberal Fascism

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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Fred's funds run out

By Libby Spencer

The Politico is reporting that the Thompson campaign has run out of money and won't be airing any TV ads in Iowa. Fred will now be forced to rely on his personality and his bus tour to win over the Iowa voters. Considering the previous reviews of Fred's on the road performance, one might think this is not going to be a winning strategy.

Hard to believe that only a few short months ago Fred was being touted as the savior of the party. It would appear his campaign was simply never able to overcome the loss of momentum caused by his long tease on testing the waters in the beginning and his on the stump style just didn't ignite the necessary enthusiasm needed to fire up his supporters.

But he does have a few left. There's a fundraising blogburst going on even as you read this. Unfortunately for them, I think, like the campaign itself, it will be to little, too late.

(Cross-posted at The Impolitic.)

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On the eve of elections

By Carol Gee

"Pakistan's Bhutto killed in gun, bomb attack," is Reuters' sad, sad headline. To quote:

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was killed in a gun and bomb attack after a rally in the city of Rawalpindi on Thursday, her party said.

"She has been martyred," said party official Rehman Malik.

Bhutto, 54, died in hospital in Rawalpindi. Ary-One Television said she had been shot in the head.

Police said a suicide bomber fired shots at Bhutto as she was leaving the rally venue in a park before blowing himself up.

The attack came just a few days before presidential elections were to be held in Pakistan on January 8. The video came into the MSNBC studio raw, bloody and unedited. News reporters and analysts, Mika Brzezinski and Andrea Mitchell are calling the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, this very brave woman, an "incredible tragedy." Earlier Madeleine Albright spoke eloquently about the tragic circumstances of her death, and commented on how difficult and delicate it was to discuss the very disturbing and complex Pakistani situation. Stephen Cohen of the Brookings Institute, called it a potential "failing state."

"Who do you want in the White House when something like this happens," asks Brzezinski's sidekick, Joe Scarborough, another of MSNBC's talking heads who immediately put his finger on the related U.S. election question. All the U.S. presidential candidates will be making statements about this very significant development. The first just came in from Rudy Giuliani, whose candidacy will inevitably be affected by the tragedy halfway around the world, because of his association with New York after the 9/11 attacks.

The two presidents have not yet made their statements. President Bush will speak at 11:00 AM, and President Musharraf reportedly "condemned the killing and urged calm."

I close this post with a report that Mika, who is doing a very good job, is now interviewing her father, Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security adviser, for his views. He is pulling no punches with his comments critical of the current administration. It will be very interesting to listen to our candidates on both sides of the political aisle. We again get a chance to assess their leadership skills.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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Why are we allied with a terrorist?

By Carl

When the dust settles and history has its say on the Bush administration's ill-conceived and tragically executed Middle East and South Asia policy, this one event may end up being the capstone, the signature event that ties together the utter abject lunacy of the warmongers in this nation:

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan (CNN) -- Pakistan former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has died after a suicide bombing that killed at least 14 of her supporters, ex-government spokesman Tariq Azim Khan and Pakistan's primary television networks said.

Bhutto suffered bullet wounds in the aftermath of the bomb attack, TV networks report.

The execution-style assassination speaks to a pretty clear plot, and the suspects are fairly likely: the military.

Finally, Bush has pushed an "ally" to the brink. Pakistanis are not oparticularly endeared to Pervez Musharraf, who was seen as caving into Bush's imperial hubris. The return of Bhutto, supported by the United States, put Musharraf in a bind and left him not a lot of wriggle room. It was clear the US wanted him defanged.

To be clear, he was never a staunch ally of US policy, just US money. The link between Pakistan's covert intelligence service, the ISI, and the terrorists who brought down four planes into two cities here in the United States are pretty clear, and it's pretty clear that Musharraf had at least condoned that funding.

While we've been hunting terrorists in southern Afghanistan, Musharraf has been cutting asylum deals with tribes in northern Pakistan, on the border of Afghanistan, that precluded searches in those regions for Al Qaeda and Taliban forces.

Indeed, it almost seems he has stood four-square against our interests. While we've been working hard to prop up the Karzai government in Afghanistan, he's been engaged in cross-border bickering over the tribal regions.

He has power, and he intends to keep it, and it's looking more and more by any means necessary. Earlier today, a rally for another more moderate former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, was disrupted by bombs that killed 4 people. And now this. And all this comes on the heels of a deliberate and planned program to disrupt large political rallies, such as the one on October 18, when 136 people died and nearly 400 were injured, as Bhutto's triumphant return was marred by a suicide bomber.

This is a dangerous man with a nuclear bomb who's nation has a history of supporting terrorists that have attacked America.

You know, an ally.

(Cross-posted to
Simply Left Behind.)

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Alas Bhutto

By Capt. Fogg

I wonder if Pakistanis are saying "God, I love freedom" today. I wonder when the idiot in chief will realize that elections in a country without stability or where stability exists only in the iron grip of a dictator, don't by themselves make a democracy.

I have no idea what the future holds for Pakistan and I have little idea what the growing chaos will mean for the US, that country's biggest supporter. I have no idea whether the most radical elements in the tribal areas will gain an advantage, or whether that country will long remain an ally, but I suspect that the upcoming elections are not landmarks on the long and tortuous path to modernity for Pakistan.

The only thing I am sure of is that our administration has no idea about how to promote liberal democracy here or abroad nor how to create the security and stability that such a condition needs in order to thrive. I'm convinced that no country so saturated with religious passion can be the host for freedom or achieve the reasonableness freedom requires.

I mourn not only Benazir Bhutto this morning, but for liberty and for peace.

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)


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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Why you're wrong about the Democrats

By Carl

When you spend your days reading blog after blog in Blogtopia (©
Skippy, the Bush Kangaroo), you forget there's an entire moderate-progressive movement out there that makes you look like a left-winger.

Indeed, yesterday's thoughtpiece on Christ, Christmas and living life in the 21st Century made me cringe a little to post: it firmly placed me in the Ceiling Cat corner. Someone who believes in a traditional religious experience, not atheist, and not sardonically supporting the Flying Spaghetti Monster in some hipster rank-out on his upbringing.

Reading blog after blog, you find that Hillary is a criminal (or worse, a sell-out), Obama's cool, Edwards is even cooler but looks like he won't make it (but we should all support him anyway), and why in the hell don't the Democrats in Congress show some backbone and impeach the bastards?

And then, you take a breath and read
a story like this, and you realize that so little of the left-wing of this country, nevermind the electorate, is represented on-line:

While they overwhelmingly support that agenda, the bloc of freshmen has begun casting votes against such minor procedural motions in an effort, Democratic sources and Republican critics say, to demonstrate their independence from their leadership. The number of votes that the potentially vulnerable newcomers to Capitol Hill cast against House leaders is tallied and watched closely by interest groups and political foes.

Such is the political life of many of the 42 freshman House Democrats, a sizable number of them moderates and conservatives who must straddle the fence between supporting their party's interests and distancing themselves from a mostly liberal leadership as they gear up for their first reelection battle next fall.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other members of the party's leadership are happy to tolerate the independence on procedural matters. Less than three hours after opposing the late-October journal vote, the same six freshmen sided with Pelosi as Democrats tried, and failed, to override President Bush's veto of a bill to expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program by $35 billion over five years, legislation that Pelosi has called her "crown jewel."

And then you remember that, if it wasn't for these "conservative Democrats," there wouldn't even BE a chance to talk about the crimes of this administration: Democrats wouldn't be in charge, and we'd be watching the dodderings of Dennis Hastert and Trent Lott in the leadsership roles.

Try telling that to the more militant rabble on the left, however.

To give you an idea how valuable these freshmen are:

Protecting the 42 freshman Democrats, the largest partisan class since 73 Republicans took office in 1994, has been the top priority for key Democratic strategists such as Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.). The freshmen get special treatment from leaders, including a weekly meeting with Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (Md.). And they receive frequent advice on how to vote from Emanuel and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Those are some pretty heavy hitters. My suspicion is, there's an even smaller core that get direction straight from Pelosi.

This isn't about power. It's about preventing another 109th Congress, and watching the pickings of the American economy get plucked by Republicans and their cronies at the expense of the middle- and working-class Americans they would court for votes.

Imagine the recent sub-prime mortgage debacle as handled by Republicans, for example. It would have been hushed up and hidden until after next November, at which point a) it would have been too late to help ten million American familes and b) the banks would have gotten away wholly scot-free, whereas now there's still a chance that they'll be held accountable for their predatory lending practices.

It is a compromise, I know, but it's one that simply has to be done right now. There's not a lot of wiggle room. The Republicans aren't defeated and crushed yet.

This does bring a new dynamic to Congress in 2008. My guess is, keep an eye out for a lot of sub-committee and committee meetings on a variety of topics, just to put them on the table, like wire-tapping and other crimes against humanity and civil rights by the Bushies.

Just don't expect them to come to the floor until after November 4. Then look out.

(Cross-posted to
Simply Left Behind.)

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Blackwater Christmas - not just a dream

By Capt. Fogg

I don't know what the spectators at the Armed Forces Bowl this New Years Eve will think when they see Blackwater mercenaries parachuting into the stadium as they did December 1st during halftime at the Sand Diego State/BYU game. Indeed, what will the Air Force team think when they see that those aren't our guys in the black uniforms? Are they staging an armed takeover or just displaying the awesome power of a private military?

I'm sorry to contradict Reagan the Great, but when someone shows up to help, I prefer that it would be someone from the legitimate government rather than armed representatives from a country without borders, or laws or accountability. I don't think it will be long, for instance, before the Bushists privatize the "War on Drugs" by giving license to companies like Blackwater to do all the things we won't allow the government to do ( like start a war in Columbia or Mexico or pour water up your nose or worse) and make no mistake, Blackwater has the vehicles, the helicopters, the ships and the intelligence division to allow them to accomplish most any mission, foreign or domestic, our next rogue president might consider to be too touchy to approach in a legal fashion.

If the next rogue president should be Mitt Romney, we can be assured that Blackwater head, Cofer Black, his chief adviser on counterterrorism, will have a lot to say about military affairs and military conduct and indeed he already has had. Romney's decision not to comment on torture was made with the advice of Black. Of course I'm sure Cofer Black's private army will be happy to accept more and better no-bid contracts from whichever idiot the American people choose to make things worse.

As Jeremy Scahill writes in The Nation,

"the Government is in the midst of the most radical privatization in history, and companies like Blackwater are becoming ever more deeply embedded in the war apparatus. Until this system is brought down, the world's the limit for Blackwater Worldwide. . ."

And what are the chances that this profitable enterprise will be brought down now that they have moved beyond the borders of brutal occupation and commercial espionage into retail sales of everything from 9mm pistols to baby clothes? Is the future a kind and degree of fascism unimaginable even in the Europe of the 1930's and 40's? Why not? With the country rallying behind thugs and idiots in blue pinstripes, what chance does freedom have?

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas then, Christmas now

By Carol Gee

To compare and contrast my childhood memories with the realities of today is a clear indication that some seven decades have past since those bucolic days in Wyoming.

My Holiday Reminiscences

Then - Our Christmas tree was real, as lush as we could afford, at least 5 feet tall, and endowed with the most wonderful aroma. There was no such thing as an artificial Christmas tree until after I was grown. By then these "manufactured by humans" tree came in metal or plastic versions. The metal ones were silver or gold. The plastic came in good-weather green. But by then you could also get your real evergreens artificially "flocked" to look snowy-white.

Now - We know that this happens in lots of places. Yesterday's (Grand Rapids Press) news story about giving away Christmas trees happens to also come from Wyoming. Merchants did not by any means give away Christmas trees in Mexico, as this Houston Chronicle article reports. It is an effect of globalization. Oregon ships about 10% of its Christmas tree crop to Mexico. Many were sold at Walmart, now Mexico's largest retailer. To quote:

First celebrated in northern Europe some 500 years ago, the Christmas tree tradition was brought to North America by German settlers in the early 1800s. City dwellers in Mexico City began buying Christmas trees in the 1950s, obtaining them from farms in the relatively chilly highlands nearby.

The Americanized tradition exploded here in recent years as Mexico became increasingly urban and wealthier. Today, more than 1 million trees are imported each season, mostly coming from Oregon. Mexican growers sell untold numbers more.

. . . At $100 to $130 or more for a 7-foot beauty, asking prices for trees at the flower market are more than double the average in the United States. That's a costly tradition in a city where $20 a day is a good blue-collar wage.

Then - Most of the decorations we hung on my childhood trees were homemade. The "garlands" were made of construction paper strips circled into multicolored chains. They also included stringed popcorn. At school we made ornaments as class projects, and Mama hung every one, ugly or beautiful.

Now - There is a growing controversy over tree ornaments imported from sweatshops in China. ABC News carried a story early in December that also included information about Walmart. To quote:

The National Labor Committee, which tracks working conditions in developing countries worldwide, released a report Wednesday titled "A Wal-Mart Christmas Brought to You from a Sweatshop in China."

It documents with photos and video, workers -- some as young as 12 years old -- working at the Guangzhou Huanya Gift Co., which produces ornaments sold in the United States at Wal-Mart and Target stores.

Then - Presents were sometimes homemade, sometimes ordered out of the Montgomery Ward "Christmas" catalog. Re-gifting, however, was verboten with my mother. Our parents saw to it that each child's was of equal monetary value, as nearly as possible. We got one main gift each, as much as the folks could afford that year.

Now - The 2007 holiday shopping season was a worry to retailers but this International Herald Tribune headline tells a better story, "Last-minute US shoppers bring relief to retailers; post-Christmas season seen as crucial." Many of us are waiting to buy our gifts to each other at the big discounts that will come after Christmas. To quote:

Just weeks ago, the holiday shopping season seemed headed for disaster. But in the waning hours before Christmas, the America's retailers got their wish — a last-minute surge of shopping that helped meet their modest sales goals, according to data released late Monday by research firm ShopperTrak RCT Corp.

. . . The spree defied fears that a deepening housing slump, escalating credit crisis and higher gas and food prices would turn shoppers into Grinches — even in the end. Meanwhile, with the season plagued by a slew of Chinese-made toy recalls that began in the summer, there were concerns that shoppers would boycott those products. That didn't happen either.

Then - Food was always delicious, and never felt anything less than special. It was not the cost, it was the care with which it was prepared. The Christmas day menu might include ham, turkey or roast hen with bread dressing. Side dishes were mashed potatoes, candies sweet potatoes, gravy, green peas, homemade cranberry sauce, and yeast rolls. Desserts would be fruitcake, or coconut cake, mincemeat pie and homemade fudge and fondant candy. Christmas Eve's menu was always oyster stew with special little round soda crackers.

Now - I now live in Texas so here is the link to Southern Food Christmas recipes from Homemade Mexican tamales are also a big Texas tradition. Many of us order ahead and go back to the same source every year. And posted lots of "Christmas food trivia" here. To quote:

What's for Christmas Dinner in America?
  • Baked ham
  • Turkey and stuffing
  • Mashed potatoes and gravy
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Green bean casserole
  • Winter squash soup
  • Waldorf salad
  • Cranberry salad
  • Parker house rolls
  • Divinity
  • Red velvet cake
  • Pumpkin pie

To summarize - I never felt too tight a budget as a child. Our Christmases were celebrated together with much attention, tradition and with love. We looked forward to Christmas Eve and to the day itself when we got to open our presents. And we felt rich.

Now - now I know my folks were on a shoestring as I was growing up. The Census Bureau currently keeps track of poverty in America. I quote their 2006 Highlights:

Poverty: 2006 Highlights

* The official poverty rate in 2006 was 12.3 percent, down from 12.6 percent in 2005 (Table 3).

* In 2006, 36.5 million people were in poverty, not statistically different from 2005.

* Poverty rates in 2006 were statistically unchanged for non-Hispanic Whites (8.2 percent), Blacks (24.3 percent), and Asians (10.3 percent) from 2005. The poverty rate decreased for Hispanics (20.6 percent in 2006, down from 21.8 percent in 2005).

* The poverty rate in 2006 was lower than in 1959, the first year for which poverty estimates are available (Figure 3). From the most recent trough in 2000, the rate rose for four consecutive years, from 11.3 percent in 2000 to 12.7 percent in 2004, and then declined to 12.3 percent in 2006 – a rate not statistically different from those in 2002 and 2003 (12.1 percent and 12.5 percent, respectively).

* For children under 18 years old and people aged 18 to 64, the poverty rates (17.4 percent and 10.8 percent, respectively) and the numbers in poverty (12.8 million and 20.2 million, respectively) remained statistically unchanged from 2005.

* Both the poverty rate and the number in poverty decreased for people aged 65 and older (9.4 percent and 3.4 million in 2006, down from 10.1 percent and 3.6 million in 2005)

Miscellaneous links:

  1. A Special Christmas Message from Blackwater at TPMmuckraker.
  2. reports that "Bush celebrates Christmas at Camp David"

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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Merry Christmas!

By J. Thomas Duffy

Oscar Peterson - A Child Is Born

(Cross-posted at The Garlic.)

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Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

By Libby Spencer

For those of you like me, who didn't get snow for Christmas, here's a little bit of the white stuff to make your holiday bright thanks to my dear friend, John W. Farrell. And I have a charming Christmas story about the kindness of strangers.

I ordered a gift on-line from a company I had never dealt with before that was supposed to come yesterday by priority mail. I had gone down to meet the mailman to spare him the walk up the stairs but the package didn't arrive as promised. I was bummed. That was my most important gift and I needed it for today. But what can you do?

Last night at about 7:30 I was startled by a knock on the door. I don't customarily get unexpected visitors. It was the mailman. He said he had noticed when he finished his run that the package was at the PO. He made a special trip back here on his own time to give it to me. Now that is the true spirit of Christmas and the best present I've received in a long time. It restored my faith in the goodness of my fellow man.

(Cross-posted at The Impolitic.)


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So this is Christmas...

By Carl what have you done?

We live in terrfying times: terrifying men who do terrifying things with terrifying consequences. Our economy is on the brink of disaster. Our world about to crumble around us to satisfy the greed and lust and jealousy of small people. And there is precious little you or I can do to prevent this from happening. These events are larger than we.

Luke 2:10-11 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

Today, we must cling to whatever faith we have on this planet, whether it be Jesus or Yahweh, Buddha or Mohammad, Triple Goddess or the Protector.

Today, we must remember that it is vitally important that, in our own lives, we live the examples set forth for us.

When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying...

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.

You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.

We dedicate our lives to live in the Graces that Jesus has stated so clearly here, and that others before and since have reminded us since time immemorial.

No sardonic cynical "thousand points of light" can persuade us to be the kind of people we want to be. It is in our nature to be kind, just as it is in our nature to be evil.

And we feel small against the world, so who could blame us for wanting vengeance against those who have taken this world from the collective soul of its people? The frustration of that vengeance mounts as we learn that we may never collect that pound of flesh.

Instead, we must turn our light on, and welcome those who, like us, travel these treacherous roads filled with bandits and bastards, and shine the path ahead for them, as those who have come before us have shined their lights for our feet to follow.

The essence of goodness within us flows from us, but also to us, restoring our souls. It is not God who maketh us lie beside still waters, but the pieces of God within all of us who have prepared the table and the road.

There will be those who would take advantage of your goodness. Let them. Learn from them. Unwittingly, they have given you a gift far more valuable than the purse they have stolen from you.

Money can always be made, but lessons cannot be unlearned. The lesson that generosity is its own reward is one that will be tested and tested again. The trouble with our society is its objectivity. We measure based on a demonstrable scale or dollars and cents, but our lives are lived in a far more precise mode: we each know the balance between what we have, what we need, and what we want. Gnothi Seauton. Know Thyself.

It is those whom mock and antagonize us to live a different lifestyle who will not inherit the peace that we inherit when the time comes. They win by making us forfeit that peace.

We win by refusing to give in. To thine own self be true. You have a value to yourself that far exceeds any riches you are promised "if you just buy this car". Who you are, what you know, is enough. You have all the tools you will ever need to live the life you want to live. You are enough.

Those who would call you unChristian you may mock, for it is written:

Mathew 6:6-7 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.

You are not alone. We who strive for grace are all around you, praying in secret as the Lord commanded. It may not seem that way, when all around we hear our faith being trampled by those who would warp and twist the Word for their own use. Their hearts are hardened.

Ours are not. We are the willows in the winds of time. We will stand against this storm, just as we have stood against all storms of the past. And we will pass along what we know to a new generation, and seed the ground, inches at a time.

This is what we have done. This is what we shall do. May peace be with you all, my friends.

(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)

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Monday, December 24, 2007

Bush plans diplomatic disaster tour

By Libby Spencer

This has got to be the most idiotic idea ever to emanate from the White House. I suspect Bush may have thought it up himself.

President George W. Bush's diplomatic passport will acquire a slew of new country stamps during his final year in office as he tries to rebuild the U.S.'s international standing and create a foreign-policy legacy beyond Iraq.

The president plans trips to the Middle East, Africa, Asia and South America, which would make 2008 his busiest year abroad. While his major domestic initiatives may get stalled by a Democratic majority in Congress and the gridlock caused by election-year politics, he still has an opportunity to exert his influence overseas.

``When it comes to foreign policy, he's not a lame duck; he can do a lot,'' said Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, who served as director of policy planning at the State Department until June 2003.

Forget about lame duck. The man is just a plain lamebrain. I can't think of anything worse than our preznit-wit plying his dis-plomacy from one end of the globe to the other. In seven years he hasn't managed to make it through a single state visit without commiting a major social gaffe. Face it, he's a arrogant bastard and nobody likes him. They only entertain him because they have to. I can't think of a better way for him ruin our international relations and leave the White House as an worldwide laughingstock.

Of course, on the bright side, everyone knows he's theorectically going to leave office in a year. After eight years of dealing with our hapless Blunderer-in-Chief, any new president is going to be seen as an improvement.

(Cross-posted at The Impolitic.)

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The sad song of Narinder Singh

By Capt. Fogg

Of course it isn't only Icelanders that are treated like subhumans by the United States, the stories of offenses against decency in this cowardly and subjugated country are endless. Thanks again to Crankyboy for pointing out the Village Voice article about Narinder Singh, whose life was ruined by ICE because they suspected that his marriage lacked passion.

Singh was held without charges for five and a half years during which he suffered in solitary, was deprived of everything basic to life but food and water and was beaten and shuttled around from one jail to another like lost luggage. Dare I even mention due process?

Returning from his mother's funeral in India shortly after 9/11/01 he fell into the hands of immigration officials who seem to have the right to do do anything to anybody without accountability, oversight or explanation. Singh never got one. Some uniformed functionary decided to find out whether the marriage was arranged in order for him to get a green card. When he was released without explanation, his wife had had to sell everything, he had lost his drivers license, his business and everything else but his wife.

We all lost something too: the right to be differentiated from other paranoid tyrannies.

(Cross-posted from Human voices.)

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It's like a glass of champagne...

By Carl

...all these
bubbles bursting. Only it ain't champagne, more like sewage.

The housing market boom has turned to bust, and with it topple many cherished ideals of the Republican party platform: specifically, in this case, the tax cut.

When Bush proposed his tax cuts, coming on the heels of the first balanced budgets in decades and the first budget surplus in centuries, it was assumed that much of the tax burden would shift down the government scale: states and localities would be forced to raise revenue in order to finance unfunded mandates the Republican Congress was throwing their way, like, say No Child Left Behind.

States and localities, of course, were having their own tax battles. No one in their right mind, in the greed infested environment so polluted with the nonsensical notion that tax cuts were actually *good* for the economy, was about to impose new taxes.

Salvation came in the form of the housing bubble. A community could merely tweak the tax rate slightly, and generate brand new revenue based solely on the fact that house values were skyrocketing and all the community had to do was keep appraisals in line with that valuation.

Worked fine until the bubble burst:

The real estate frenzy that once filled public coffers with property taxes has over the last two years given way to a devastating bust. Rather than christening new facilities, the mayor [Eric Feichthaler, Cape Coral, Florida] finds himself picking through the wreckage of speculative excess and broken dreams.

Last month, the city eliminated 18 building inspector jobs and 20 other positions within its Department of Community Development. They were no longer needed because construction has all but ceased. The city recently hired a landscaping company to cut overgrown lawns surrounding hundreds of abandoned homes.

“People are underwater on their houses, and they have just left,” Mr. Feichthaler says. “That road widening may have to wait. It will be difficult to construct the high school. We know there are needs, but we are going to have to wait a little bit.”

Waiting, scrimping, taking stock: This is the vernacular of the moment for a nation reckoning with the leftovers of a real estate boom gone sour. From the dense suburbs of northern Virginia to communities arrayed across former farmland in California, these are the days of pullback: with real estate values falling, local governments are cutting services, eliminating staff and shelving projects.

So let me draw the picture for you: a lower tax base from the Federal government on down to your city or town; a crumbling infrastructure in terms of bridges (remember the I-35 bridge in Minnesota?), highways, streets, and public facilities like schools, hospitals, and services like police and fire departments; a shrinking tax base as baby-boomers begin to retire, forcing Social Security to call in its chits from the general tax revenue; an aging population demanding health care reform; a horribly tragic, wasteful war that's drained one trillion dollars plus from our collective nest eggs-- and the worst is yet to come.

Next year, another two million or so mortgages will have to be re-assessed as they are due for drastic rate hikes. That's going to create yet another contraction in the real estate market (barring a drastic intervention by the Fool On The Hill, George W Bush) that's going to fling off yet another wave of revenue cuts for states and communities.

And yet, Republicans nationwide applaud this kind of shit. I guess living in a gated community has some advantages but what happens when the gatekeepers can't get to work or can't get to an emergency room? Gates can trap inside as well as keep people out.

Not a pretty picture for the holiday season, huh?

(Cross-posted to
Simply Left Behind.)

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This dust-up about Christmas

By Carol Gee

Absurd! There is a certain virtue to political correctness. But, in the case of avoiding the use of the word Christmas, there is no reason to adhere to such silliness. December 25 is a valid Christian holiday that marks the birthday (arbitrarily chosen date) of Jesus Christ. Let's explore the Christmas controversy. Or, as a college student titled his recent terrific editorial, "Merry Christmahanakwanzayule."

Where did the conflict originate? A Wikipedia chart on religious demography in the U.S. might account for some of it. In 1990, 88.3% of Americans self-identified themselves as Christian. In 2001 the percentage had dropped to 79.8%. The "other religions" percentages were 3.5% in 1990, and 5.2% in 2001. People who said "No Religion/Atheist/Agnostic" totaled 8.4% in 1990 and 15.0% in 2001. (The aggregate total is slightly over 100% because of the survey's method of not adjusting for refusal to answer in this U.S. Census survey). To quote:

# the greatest increase in absolute as well as in percentage terms has been among those adults who do not subscribe to any religious identification; their number has more than doubled from 14.3 million in 1990 to 29.4 million in 2001; their proportion has grown from just 8% of the total in 1990 to over 14% in 2001;
# there has also been a substantial increase in the number of adults who refused to reply to the question about their religious preference, from about four million or 2% in 1990 to more than eleven million or over 5% in 2001.

"Religion in the United States," Wikipedia, reports that 20% of Americans are non-Christian, summarizing it this way:

Most Americans adhere to Christianity. According to the 2001 American Religious Identification Survey (discussed below), 80% of the U.S. is Christian and 15% do not adhere to a religion. Other religions comprise 5% of the U.S. population.

One of the central parts of the conflict emanates from a segment of conservative Christians that named the controversy "the war on Christmas." Media Matters carried a post recently, " 'Somewhere Jesus is weeping' over attacks on Bill O'Reilly," devoted to this whole brouhaha. This kind of stuff is where my opening Absurd! comes from. Prosper, an online "prosperity" magazine out of Sacramento, CA, carried a 2006 dialogue, "Out of their minds - Holiday v. Christmas," that is an excellent summary of the controversy. For a lucid elaboration of the issues it is a good read.

For my part, it seems reasonable to get back to some kind of balance. That would mean thinking about the reality that twenty percent of us will not be celebrating a holy birthday on December 25. Sensitivity to that does not mean ignoring the eighty percent who theoretically mark the day that way. Buth there is a deeper reality here. And that there are a whole lot of us in the theoretical cadre. We are not regular church-going Christians. Wikipedia reported,

On the other hand, nearly 40% of respondents who identified with a religion indicated that neither they themselves nor anyone else in their household belongs to a church or some other similar institution.

. . . The top three "gainers" in America's vast religious market place appear to be Evangelical Christians, those describing themselves as Non-Denominational Christians and those who profess no religion. Looking at patterns of religious change from this perspective, the evidence points as much to the rejection of faith as to the seeking of faith among American adults. Indeed, among those who previously had no religion, just 5% report current identification with one or another of the major religions.

This dust-up over Christmas will pass. After Christmas articles will let us know how the retail world handled it. I hope we find evidence of a bit of sanity connected to the reality. What I find in the blogosphere conversation is a number of folks just want to get the holidays behind them. There is another good sized number that sends me greetings via comments or e-mails. And there is another number that totally ignore Christmas in their writings, and celebrate one of the variety of current holidays privately. Out of which of the theoretical groups you come is your personal preference. I greet you and salute you. And I am curious about who I am leaving out or insulting with the wrong phrase:

  • Merry Christmas!
  • Happy Kwanzaa!
  • Happy Hanukkah!
  • Have a good Eid al-Adha!
  • Welcome to the Winter Solstice!
  • Happy holidays!

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

MJWS in the UK

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Greetings from England, everyone. I've been here for a few days already, suffering through jet lag and a nasty cold but otherwise doing well. My family has a lovely 18th-century farm (more like an estate, but that sounds excessively pompous) in the country north-west of London, in a small village in the Chiltern hills, fairly close to Oxford, an idyllic place that I can only describe as a sort of Burkean paradise.

I'll be here for three weeks in total. I hope to get some blogging done while I'm here, if I can tear myself away from my Constable-like surroundings, not to mention some trips into London, but the co-bloggers are so good that my absence can hardly be missed. Indeed, it is a genuine pleasure to be able to turn the blog over to them, and a similar pleasure to be able to check in regularly to read all the great posts they've put up. I'm sure I'll get some blogging done -- the primaries are coming up, after all, and I'll have a few things to say in anticipation of, and in response to, them, to say the least -- but, in the meantime, keep checking back for more of what you've (hopefully) come to expect from The Reaction, a fantastic variety of posts from a fantastic group of bloggers. (If you're new and don't yet know what to expect, welcome!)

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

Be back soon.

-- Michael


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The Queen joins the always-on generation

By Libby Spencer

Who says you can't teach an old royal new tricks? Urged on by her tech savvy progeny, The Queen of England now has her own YouTube channel. She just posted a video of her first televised Christmas message to the masses, wherein she expressed wonder at the new technology of the day that allowed her to appear on a box in her subjects' living rooms.

I don't know much about the royal family and have no idea why they feel the need to reach out to the people in this particular manner. A YouTube account hardly seems to fit the image of the very formal, upper crust of British society, but I love that she's willing to embrace the latest technology in order to mash it up with the masses. Makes her seem more accessible. I suppose that's the point.

Now if she also starts blogging, I'll be really impressed.

(Cross-posted at The Impolitic.)

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Droit de seigneur & economic royalists

By Carl

In feudal times, all who worked for the lord of the land submitted to
droit du seigneur, which demanded, among other things, any virgin woman to be married was offered to the manorist first, in order to deflower her (aka prima nocti, or law of the first night).

Should she be silly or unlucky enough to become pregnant, well, that was her family's burden. In addition to spreading his genetic material (believing that peasants and serfs were of lesser blood, so "improving" his people), it was also a form of suppression: by humiliating his charges, they would be less likely to rise up in revolt or even to ask a boon of the lord.

Well, to no one's surprise, this elitist, royalist tradition
continues today, albeit in a mutated form:

A Treasury-backed plan to stabilize a vital segment of the credit markets has been shelved, the banks involved said yesterday.

The strategy called for banks across the globe to create a $100 billion fund aimed at jump-starting the troubled market for short-term loans, acting like a credit card for companies.

But the architects of the plan, which was developed by Citigroup and other leading financial institutions at series of meetings convened by Treasury officials this fall, struggled to recruit other banks and called it quits this week.

This plan was a key privatized element of Bush's mortgage "bailout" plan, supposedly directed at borrowers but in truth, designed more to protect lenders.

The larger commercial banks, like Citibank or JP Morgan Chase, could afford to absorb some of the shortfalls and defaults that would cripple smaller lenders. The $100 million fund would limit their losses to this amount, and that risk would be spread out across a number of banks around the world.

Makes sense, right? This way, the credit markets don't dry up so quickly, and might even weather the storm.

So why is this being shelved?

Earlier this week, Paulson and the banks behind the plan said they were committed to its establishment. That changed yesterday after Treasury officials and the banks, which included Bank of America and J.P. Morgan Chase, said that the fund was "not needed at this time" because market conditions had improved.

Subtle, that.

Market conditions have improved, a little (read: bank earnings have stabilized), but the economy itself (and the money that goes to pay mortgages) has not. In business-speak, the banks took a look at the risk and realized they were a lot more likely to lose the entire $100 million than they were a month ago:

The plan would have helped major issuers of asset-backed commercial paper called structured investment vehicles (SIVs). These semi-independent funds, set up by Wall Street banks to make complicated investments, have suffered deeply from the credit crunch.

The SIVs issue short-term loans and invest that money in securities backed in many cases by mortgages. But after a wave of defaults and foreclosures swept across the nation, the value of the securities held by the SIVs plummeted. The debt markets panicked, and the SIVs found it impossible to sell off any holdings.

With those large losses and a climate of fear in the marketplace, the SIVs were unable to issue short-term loans.

Since then, many banks, in particular Citigroup, have moved more than $100 billion in troubled assets from their SIVs onto their own balance sheets, alleviating a key rationale for the rescue fund. The transfer means the banks are agreeing to back loans made by the SIVs.

Prima Nocti, indeed. These guys pumped the American homeowner full of their vile seed, and now walk away with millions of pregnant mortgages about to come due, which they can easily write off their books now. Essentially, the banks are telling Paulson, the Treasury Department and the Bush administration, "Screw you, this is your problem, you fix it!"

George Will, a man no one really need admire, has said one admirable thing in his life: the American capitalist system is designed to privatize profit, but socialize losses, except when it comes to the individual wage-earner. If a business loses it's headquarters in a foreclosure, that business can write that loss off. A human family? Eh. Not so much. If a bank forecloses on a mortgage it holds, it can write off that loss. I lend you a $100, and I have to go through hoops and garters to prove to the IRS there was indeed an actual loan if you can't pay me back. And our transaction was probably better documented than the banks!

Next year will be a pivotal year in the mortgage and credit markets. This move tells me the banks are expecting bigger problems than anyone anticipated.

(Cross-posted to
Simply Left Behind.)

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Yes, Virginia, there is, sadly, a William Kristol ...

By J. Thomas Duffy

Oh, boy ... Like you couldn't see this one coming down the turnpike, pedal-to-the-metal and the high beams on ...

Christ, even a young toddler, that still believes in Santa Clause, knew, instinctively, this would be coming.

Gen. David Petraeus, Man of the Year; Time magazine got it wrong

Little Billy Kristol is all plump-in-the-crotch with this one.

"We are now winning the war. To say this was not inevitable is an understatement ..."

"Petraeus pulled it off. The war is not over, of course. Too quick and deep a drawdown--which some in the Pentagon and elsewhere in the Bush administration are, appallingly, pushing for--could throw away the amazing success that has been achieved. Still: It is as clear as anything can be in this world, where we judge through a glass darkly, that General David H. Petraeus is, in fact, America's man of the year.

What, exactly, has Petraeus, or us, won?

There's a lull in the action and OMG!, the surge worked.

Pardon me, if we wait and let all the sand fall through the hourglass.

There's still a pretty huge shoe - and we're talking gargantuan-sized clown shoes here - that will "inevitably" drop, namely, what happens to all those former insurgents that Petraeus armed - intentionally (and the ones he armed unintentionally) - when they decide to switch back to be regular old insurgents again?

Or they don't like a certain Iraqi politician? Or they don't like what's being served for lunch at the local deli?

Sounds like Little Billy Kristol is pushing for a Mission Accomplished II (which I suppose we get both Bush and Cheney in flightsuits) and a Wall Street-Ticker-Tape parade for the Golden Boy General.

I'm sure this will be a heavily-buzzed topic of conversation on the next Weekly Standard cruise (the Ad hanging over Little Billy's love note) and, who knows, maybe the victorious General will be on-board as well.

Can't you just see The General pulling some aging neocon out of the audience, one poured into the tuxedo bought thirty-years ago, to give some razzle-dazzle demonstration of "the surge"?

The neocons, freakshow and dittoheads on board will eat it up like happy soup. There'll be shouts from the crowd for Petraeus to run for the Senate, run for President. Surely, if he can "win Iraq", he can easily knock some sense into Washington.

Quickly, the crowd will begin foaming, delirious that are in the same room with the Golden Boy General, and it won't be long before the catcalls come for a "surge into Iran".

And Little Billy Kristol crashes through the swinging doors, all dolled up in his little cheerleading uniform and ... Well, let's not go there ... It would take us into a Russ Meyer-Meets-Tim Burton-Meets-David Lynch-Meets-John Waters-thing and that is too sick and twisted to conjure up, even for a satire piece ...

Suffice it to say Little Billy Kristol will have boatloads of more columns calling for war and destruction.

It is, he will argue, the American way.

Cleaning Up Little Billy Kristol Droppings

Think Progress: Time drops Kristol, Krauthammer

Juan Cole: A surge of phony spin on Iraq - Bush's backers are peddling a sunny view of the president's strategy -- despite Iraq's political chaos and soaring death counts

The PetraeusReportpalooza ... Ready For Your Close-Up, General?

Of Legacy Maintenance - And Corrections! ... David Corn's "REBUTTAL - Why Bush Is A Loser"

Where's Ernest Borgnine when you need him?

(Cross-posted at The Garlic.)

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