Saturday, March 06, 2010

Nice weather, global warming, and a cute little Szechuan bharal

It was a beautiful, sunny, Spring-like day here in the Toronto area, and I spent much of it east of the city, past Oshawa, enjoying not being anywhere near the city, out in the lovely small towns along Lake Ontario.

(As an aside, albeit a relevant one, global warming deniers are quick to jump on freakish winter weather as proof, in their little minds, that there's no such thing as global warming, as they did during the recent massive snowstorms that slammed the northeastern U.S., but they tend to go silent when the reverse happens, namely, when the weather is uncommonly warm, as it was today. Indeed, it's been overall a relatively mild winter here in southern Ontario. Of course, weather is not climate, and global warming is actually consistent with freakish winter storms. I won't go so far as to suggest that the warmer weather is proof on its own that global warming is a reality -- we have more than enough evidence that it is, and that human activity is behind most of it -- but it is curious (is it not?) that generally warmer weather seems to parallel rising global temperatures. Arctic ice is melting, glaciers are receding, animal migratory patterns are shifting, and, on March 6, 2010, still winter, it's a lovely day, requiring only a sweater, in what is usually a rather chilly part of the world this time of the year. Make of that what you will.)

Well, I'm not in the mood to comment on anything political at the moment, that parenthetical aside aside, and so I will content myself now with posting a lovely photo of a 22-day old female Szechuan bharal, or Chinese blue sheep, at Kanazawa Zoo in Yokohama, Japan. I found it at The Globe and Mail, where it was one of the "Best from March 5" photos. Funny enough, as I later discovered, it was also featured in yesterday's "Day in pictures" at the BBC. And, from what I can tell, it's been making its way around the Web. It seems a lot of people like it. And understandably so. Here it is:

Labels: , , ,

Bookmark and Share

Stupidest Republican of the Day: Judd Gregg

Sen. Gregg of New Hampshire, almost a member of Obama's Cabinet, has come out swinging against the use of reconciliation, but, speaking on the Senate floor on Thursday, he struck out. From his remarks:

Why did they choose that bill called reconciliation to do this? Or why will they? Because under the Senate rules, anything that comes across the floor of the Senate requires 60 votes to pass. It's called the filibuster. That's the way the Senate was structured. The Senate was structured to be the place where bills which rushed through the House because they have a lot of rules that limit debate and allow people to pass bills quickly, but they don't have any rule in the House called the filibuster which allows people to slow things down.

The Founding Fathers realized when they structured this they wanted checks and balances. They didn't want things rushed through. They saw the parliamentary system. They knew it didn't work. So they set up the place, as George Washington described it, where you take the hot coffee out of the cup and you pour it into the saucer and you let it cool a little bit and you let people look at it and make sure it's done correctly. That's why we have the 60-vote situation over here in the Senate to require that things get full consideration.

There's so much stupidity here, and, honestly, I'm just too tired -- at 12:21 am -- to do it justice. Thankfully, we can turn to Matthew Yglesias, who has ripped Gregg's "argument" apart and exposed it for the nonsense it is:

It's true that the Founding Fathers wanted checks and balances, but this is why we have bicameralism and presidential veto power. Those are the checks. The filibuster rule is not in the constitution. But since the Founding Fathers did specify supermajorities to override a Presidential veto and to ratify a treaty, presumably there would have written a supermajority rule into the ordinary legislative process if that’s what they'd wanted to do. I don't think "the Founders wanted it this way" should carry a ton of weight in our arguments, but it's very clear that the Founders didn't intend the Senate to vote by supermajority; if they'd wanted that, they would have written the constitution that way.

Meanwhile, just to point out that Gregg is an idiot, where on earth has he gotten the idea that the Founding Fathers "saw the parliamentary system" and "knew it didn't work?" There were no countries operating on a modern parliamentary system when the constitution was written. And why doesn't it work? It seems to work in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Hungary, India, Japan, Korea, etc.

Arguably what history has shown is that the "strong president" system used in the United States doesn't work. It's worked out okay for us (despite that Civil War business) so far, but the vast majority of enduring stable democracies go parliamentary or semi-presidential systems. 

Yglesias vs. Gregg just isn't a fair fight.

Gregg clearly has little to no understanding of the Consitution and the intent of the Founding Fathers, little to no understanding of comparative politics, and little to no understanding of how the Senate works -- after all, Republicans were happy to use reconciliation when they were in the majority (and when they wanted just a simple majority to get things done), including when Bush was president (and so not so very long ago -- how convenient that Gregg doesn't seem to remember).

Here are the facts:

-- Health-care reform bills have already passed both the House and Senate. In the Senate, the Democrats were able to break the Republican filibuster with 60 votes.

-- Democrats have no intention of passing the entire comprehensive package through reconciliation. There's no need to (see above). Reconciliation would only be used for so-called "patches," minor changes to the bill to appease the House (which, hopefully, will pass the Senate bill as is).

-- Reconciliation is in the Senate rules, just like the filibuster. It's not like Democrats are pulling a trick out of some magic hat. Republican talking points use the word "trick" to make it seem as if Democrats are behaving in some grossly un-democratic and even un-American manner (though what's so un-democratic about simple majority rule?), but Republicans have used reconciliation, too, and frequently. Gregg knows this. He was all for reconciliation as recently as 2005.

So just what is Gregg? An idiot? A hypocrite? A partisan hack? All of the above?

Yes. And pretty fucking stupid.

Labels: , , , , ,

Bookmark and Share

Friday, March 05, 2010

Quote of the Day

By Creature

"After all these years, the same cast of right wing lunatics can type something up in the morning and have it on CNN in the afternoon." -- Atrios, on yesterday's ugly CNN pander to our modern-day McCarthyites.


Bookmark and Share

IEDs and oil prices: Iran and the terrorist threat to the U.S. military, in conjunction with our good friends at Operation Free, has put together a hard-hitting new ad examining the connections between U.S. energy dependency and Iran's terrorist campaign against the U.S. in Iraq.

HuffPo's Sam Stein reports:

In a spot set to air in eight key states, the group, (with assistance from the energy independence group Operation Free) splices footage of highly developed improvised explosive devices being used against U.S. soldiers alongside Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Narrated by Iraq War veteran Christopher Miller, who earned a Purple Heart as the result of an IED explosion six years ago, the ad makes the case that passing energy legislation is a national security imperative.

"That's the type of IED that earned me a purple heart in Iraq six years ago," Miller says, as footage of a U.S. convoy being blown off a dirt road runs in the backdrop.

"This is what our troops are up against today: EFPs [Explosively Formed Projectile] specially designed to pierce American military armor. It is a devastating weapon and it was created in oil-rich Iran. They are ending up in the hands of our enemies. And every time oil goes up a dollar, Iran gets another $1.5 billion to use against us."

"Connection between oil and the enemy couldn't be clearer," Miller adds. "We need to break that connection by breaking our addiction. And we can by passing a clean energy climate plan. It would cut our dependence on foreign oil in half."

"Some in Congress say it is a tough vote. Not as tough as what our troops are up against."

That's for sure. Yet, given the immense power of Big Oil and the Saudi lobby, Congress likely won't do nearly enough, if anything at all, to address energy dependency in any meaningful way.

This is an important video. Watch it:

Labels: , , , , ,

Bookmark and Share

It's the methane, stupid

Uh-oh: "A section of the Arctic Ocean seafloor that holds vast stores of frozen methane is showing signs of instability and widespread venting of the powerful greenhouse gas." More:

The research results, published in the March 5 edition of the journal Science, show that the permafrost under the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, long thought to be an impermeable barrier sealing in methane, is perforated and is leaking large amounts of methane into the atmosphere. Release of even a fraction of the methane stored in the shelf could trigger abrupt climate warming.


Methane is a greenhouse gas more than 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide. It is released from previously frozen soils in two ways. When the organic material -- which contains carbon -- stored in permafrost thaws, it begins to decompose and, under oxygen-free conditions, gradually release methane. Methane can also be stored in the seabed as methane gas or methane hydrates and then released as subsea permafrost thaws.

Apparently, "average methane concentrations in the Arctic average about 1.85 parts per million, the highest in 400,000 years."

And why is this happening? Thawing. And what is causing the thawing? Global warming.

It's a vicious cycle. As we release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, we warm up the earth, causing even more greenhouse gases to be released into the atmosphere, which in turn warm up the earth even more.

Given how slow we have been to respond to global warming, there may be no way out of the cycle. And that means, ultimately, acknowledging that climate predictions are necessarily inexact, the coming of environmental Armageddon.

Too dramatic? Just wait.

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

WH considering military trials for 9/11 suspects

By Creature

If this comes to pass, and that's a big if, AG Holder should resign in protest. Someone needs to take a stand. It's a shame that that someone doesn't seem to be Barack Obama.

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

Who, me?

By Capt. Fogg

O that ye would altogether hold your peace! and it should be your wisdom

Job 13:5

California state Senator Roy Ashburn (R-Bakersfield) is very concerned about the "gay agenda" and he's been a fierce opponent of same sex marriage and a "family values" blowhard for a long time. Although many don't agree with my feeling that such obsession is a cover up, examples keep emerging with regularity and it's hard even to list the most humorous ones. Senator Ashburn was recently arrested for drunk driving in downtown Sacramento early Wednesday morning. There's no particular surprise there and I imagine many other patrons leaving the gay bar "Faces" in the wee hours had had a bit too much to drink. He was given a field sobriety test and promptly taken off to jail. I don't know what happened to his "unidentified male companion."

Perhaps it will be less of a surprise to hear that Angelo Balducci, a "Gentleman of His Holiness," was caught on a police wiretap negotiating for the services of male prostitutes with a Vatican chorister. No official comments have yet been published.

The pattern emerged a long time ago, even before Wide Stance Larry tapped his toes in Minneapolis and whether you do or don't agree with me, I'm going to bet that more often than not, the biggest and most assertive opponents of gay rights and fantasy fabricators are dealing with difficult inner longings. Perhaps after all, if you'll forgive my radical libertarianism, the best way to hide them and to avoid suspicion is to simply leave gay people alone?

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

Genocide is genocide: Exposing the truth about the Turkish massacre of Armenians

It was a close vote, 23-22, but the House Foreign Affairs Committee voted yesterday, if I may quote the NYT, "to condemn as genocide the mass killings of Armenians early in the last century, defying a last-minute plea from the Obama administration to forgo a vote that seemed sure to offend Turkey and jeopardize delicate efforts at Turkish-Armenian reconciliation."

It's a vote I applaud enthusiastically. And not for the first time. Here's what I wrote back in October 2007:

What happened to Armenians in the Ottoman Empire from 1915 to 1917 was genocide -- an estimated 1.5 million killed, a brutal and systematic process of deportation and slaughter aimed at wiping out the Armenian population -- but you wouldn't know it if you got your history from the Turks, who committed the genocide (now known as the Armenian Genocide, or Holocaust), or from their present-day apologists in the Bush Administration, from Bush and Rice and Gates, the Holocaust deniers who sit at the top of the U.S. government. The House Foreign Affairs Committee passed a resolution last week, calling what happened to the Armenians what it was, genocide, but the deniers wanted none of it.

I wouldn't describe Obama and those in his administration as deniers, but they're certainly doing much the same thing the previous administration did, namely, refusing to acknowledge publicly that what happened in Armenia was genocide, and all because of those ever-so-delicate, ever-so-important American-Turkish relations, which apparently couldn't survive an admission of truth.

For its part, Turkey has been waging a decades-long campaign to deny the genocide, a shameful refusal not just to take responsibility for one of the most horrendous massacres in history but even to admit that it really happened. And its reaction when challenged, this time as always, suggests a level of collective national immaturity that is truly appalling. In response to the House vote -- which, again, was just yesterday -- the Turkish ambassador to Washington was recalled and the Turking prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, issued the following statement: "We condemn this bill that denounces the Turkish nation of a crime that it has not committed."

Well, it did, whether it wants to admit it or not.

And while I understand the desire to maintain close and friendly relations with Turkey, a valuable ally, there is simply no excuse for the U.S. government, whether it's Bush or Obama in the White House, to play along with, and to lend credence to, such a lie. It might as well deny that slavery ever happened.

Besides, the Turks are bluffing. Do they really want to cut off ties with America? Hardly. They need America, just like they need the West generally, and it's about time their denials were puncutured and they were held to account for one of the darkest events of the last century.

Thankfully, 23 members of the U.S. House of Representatives agree. Not thankfully, there are far too many, including at the highest levels of the government, who are in cahoots with the Turks.

Labels: , , ,

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, March 04, 2010

BREAKING NEWS: Chief Justice Roberts will not be retiring

That's right, contrary to earlier reports, John Roberts will not be stepping down as chief justice.


Explanation here. It seems a Georgetown Univ. law professor told his class this morning that Roberts would be resigning. His students, as you might well imagine, spread the news via text, IM, etc., and it went sort of viral.

As it turns out, the "eccentric" professor was just trying to make a point about "the credibility and reliability of informants," as one student explained. Halfway through the class, the profesor "revealed that the Roberts rumor was made up to show how someone you ordinarily think is credible and reliable (ie a law professor) can disseminate inaccurate information."


By the time the truth was out, it was too late.

If nothing else, this story shows just how quickly information, correct or not, can spread in an age of almost universal interconnectedness and media accessibility, in an age of social networking and individual empowerment. (All of which is more bad than good, I would say, despite all the problems, which I won't delve into here.)

It's just too bad it was all a joke.

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

A race to the bottom

By Creature

CNN takes the lead. The level of stupid in this country astounds me.


Bookmark and Share

Truly "Irked"

By Carl

Erik Erickson, or as I like to call him, Irked Irksome, is a doosh:

You know, I don't think it's a coincidence that the states that pay the least amount of unemployment benefits over time have the lowest unemployment and when we keep subsidizing the behavior, the behavior continues.

Irk needed to do more work.

For example, here's an analysis of unemployment by population density, most unemployment versus state ranking in density:

Michigan - $362 14.6% 16
Nevada - $362 13.0% 42
Rhode Island - $641 12.9% 2
South Carolina - $326 12.6% 21
California - $450 12.4% 11
Florida - $275 11.8% 8
North Carolina - $476 11.2% 15
Illinois - $511 11.1% 12
Alabama - $235 11.0% 27
Oregon - $463 11.0% 39

You'll note that of the top ten states in unemployment percentage (as of 2009) only two rank in the bottom half in population density (which also correlates to cost of living, which directly correlates with the amount in unemployment insurance.)

Of the last ten states in population density, only one has a rate over ten percent (roughly the national average):

Alaska - $320 8.8% 50
Wyoming - $387 7.5% 49
Montana - $386 6.7% 48
North Dakota - $385 4.4% 47
South Dakota - $285 4.7% 46
New Mexico - $455 8.3% 45
Idaho - $364 9.1% 44
Nebraska - $298 4.7% 43
Nevada - $362 13.0% 42
Utah - $427 6.7% 41

It gets better.

Of the top ten states in terms of unemployment benefits paid, only one ranks in the bottom half of population density:

Rhode Island - $641 2
Massachusetts - $628 3
Connecticut - $576 4
New Jersey - $560 1
Pennsylvania - $547 10
Minnesota - $538 31
Hawaii - $523 13
Washington - $515 25
Illinois - $511 12
Maine - $496 38

But here's the kicker, the ten states with the lowest unemployment benefits, and their ranking by unemployment percentage (10% being roughly the national average):

Michigan 1
Nevada 2
DC 6
Wisconsin 30
Delaware 25
South Carolina 4
Alaska 29
Georgia 16
Missouri 19
Nebraska 49
South Dakota 50
Florida 7

So Irk's little benefits = unemployment is absolute and utter bullshit.

(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

Conservadem Blanche Lincoln's new campaign ad

By Creature

And this is the person establishment Dems (yes, White House, I'm talking to you) are supporting. Amazing. It's time to give Bill Halter some more cash.


Bookmark and Share

Stoning the Orca

"History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes."

-- Thomas Jefferson to Alexander von Humboldt, Dec. 6, 1813


It was inevitable, since after all, this incomprehensibly huge and ancient universe exists only to provide a place in which God can test the mindless obedience to a farrago of meaningless and often contradictory rules of the sentient apes whose existence spans an infinitesimal part of the space time continuum -- anything that happens must be seen in the context of peremptory power and abject submission to the words of ancient men who went their whole, ignorant, bug-infested lives without soap. Or so saith the AFA.

A captive six-ton top predator, by following its possibly God given instincts to grab and kill any smaller animal at water's edge, was God's way of testing his demand that an ox who gores a man must be stoned. That's right, the sad death of Sea World trainer Dawn Brancheau was God's punishment to "the west" for the very concept of animal rights and her death a test to see if we'd follow the commands of ancient, flea bitten, psychotics. By not "stoning" the Orca, it's only going to get worse. God will have his oxen (and Orcas) stoned even if the hirsute brutes he chose to write down his words never heard of such an animal.

Have I been listening to too many paranoid schizophrenics at Nurse Ratched's cuckoo's nest? No, just the perennial font of psychotic idiocy called the American Family Association.

"Chalk another death up to animal rights insanity and to the ongoing failure of the West to take counsel on practical matters from the Scripture," wrote Bryan Fischer, at the AFA's official blog. "When an ox gores a man or woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten, but the owner shall not be liable."

Do you think that if I stampeded some oxen through their offices and gored the living shit out of Fischer and his batshit crew of straight-jacket candidates, the AFA would find me liable and sue me? I think so too but I would truly love to try it. After all, I could easily cite the 613 Biblical Commandments, 600 of which they routinely ignore, such as the "abominations" of the cheeseburger or using cotton thread to sew your linen clothes or turning on the lights on Friday night. A good goring and stoning would only be God's work, dontcha think? The work of that smelly little sociopathic God who lives in some dank invisible basement in some invisible world and tortures animals for fun?

There is no place in a sane and decent society for these sick bastards and the curious selection of perverted bronze age superstitions they'd like to replace our laws with. The Bible, or whatever dubiously assembled antique political documents they'd like to tell us is the backbone of existence and the source of all goodness, is simply not compatible with decency, truth, freedom and the safety of humans beings or their families. Freedom from being ruled by its self appointed priesthood has been the long struggle of our kind and I will not have it snatched from us after two centuries of secular Democracy by these evil men.

For I have sworn upon the altar of god, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man,

said Jefferson.

Yes, me too.

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

Enthusiasm gap

By Creature

Yes, there's a huge enthusiasm gap on the left for HCR and I'm part if it. While I do want HCR to pass (even if it's the crappy Senate bill), I have no intention to cheer-lead for it. I've made my calls and donated my money when the public option was on the line, but that's it. The president has my support, but my enthusiasm has been deadened. This is the price the administration paid for leaving the left behind to appease conservadems and, sorry, but now it's up to conservadems to push HCR over the line.

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

Obama, Democrats ready to move forward on health-care reform

It looks like the process has been worked out:

Sen. Tom Harkin told POLITICO that Senate Democratic leaders have decided to go the reconciliation route. The House, he said, will first pass the Senate bill after Senate leaders demonstrate to House leaders that they have the votes to pass reconciliation in the Senate.

It's not clear how Senate Democrats will "demonstrate" their commitment to use reconciliation to pass so-called patches to the Senate bill -- remember, reconciliation won't be used for the entire package, or even most of it, just for a few relatively minor changes -- but it could be something like a letter signed by at least 51 of them.

The bigger question, though, is whether House Democrats have the votes to pass the Senate bill, and that, for now, is where all the real drama is. Some who voted Yes the first time may vote No now, perhaps because of weakened anti-abortion provisions, perhaps because reform isn't popular back home (and they think they can only win by rushing to the center and embracing the Republicans), perhaps because they've bought into all the right-wing propaganda -- or perhaps because, if they're on the left, they object to fact that the public option is no longer in play. (There is indeed great concern that the Senate bill will lose progressives in the House, which could be a disaster. Seriously, while I admire and generally agree with these progressives, now is not the time to hold out. Doing so could hand a major victory to the Republicans, endanger the Democratic majority, and set back health-care reform for another generation. Better this bill, which is still significant, than nothing at all.)

What Pelosi needs is for the loss of those votes to be offset by members moving the other way, from No the first time to Yes now. And there should be some -- perhaps those who are not running for re-election and so don't need to pander to a frightened electorate, perhaps those who finally see that it is in the best interests of all Democrats that reform be passed, even if the reform bill itself is flawed and inadequate, perhaps those on the left who understand that this is it, that it's now or never, or at least not for a long, long time, and who, as I suggest above, agree that this bill is better than nothing, perhaps even those in the center who are persuaded by skeptical Senate centrists, like Bayh, Nelson, and Prior, who "recognize the political imperative of passing a bill and are endorsing it openly."

I don't want to be overly optimistic, let alone delusional, but this seems to be trending in the right direction.


And it helps that President Obama is all in now, too, demanding an up-or-down vote, embracing a few Republican ideas but generally seeming prepared to move forward without any Republican support.

(Which, as we've known for a long time now, isn't coming. Which begs the question, why reach out to obstructionist Republicans and skeptical Democratic centrists instead of to enthusiastic liberals and progressives with, say, a robust public option and broad Medicare expansion? Well, because the votes wouldn't have been there in the Senate and perhaps wouldn't be there in either house now. But that was then, before initial passage, when 60 Senate votes were needed. Now that we've passed that point, and now that reconciliation is on the table, it's not clear how making the bill even less progressive makes it more likely to pass the House, unless there really are too many centrists to appease. Couldn't a union of 51+ reconciliation-bound Senate Democrats and 216+ House Democrats have been formed in support of a more progressive bill (including patches)? Well, I've said before that Obama's strategy seems to make a lot of sense, and I'll stick to that now. Let's just hope that Reid and Pelosi and the rest of the Democratic bean-counters on Capitol Hill know what they're doing.)

Anyway, as Jonathan Cohn notes:

[I]f Obama on Wednesday was implicitly giving up on his hopes for constructive, bipartisan governing, he wasn't giving up on his hopes for what governing would achieve. He ran for president on a promise to tackle the nation's most challenging problems -- and, since winning election, he's gleefully defied those who warned him he was trying to do too much. Nowhere has that been more true than on the issue of health care. At any point in the last few months but particularly in the wake of the Massachusetts election, it would have been easy to back away from comprehensive reform -- to cut a deal, be done with it, and move on. Instead, Obama on Wednesday committed himself more fully to comprehensive reform than he has at any time since this effort started. There's no backing off now.

Obama has made his mistakes and the plan he's put forward has its flaws. But I don't think he gets enough credit for the determination he's showing now. Americans always say they want leaders who lead rather than follow -- who do what they think is right rather than what they think is popular. And liberals, in particular, say they want politicians who will think big and pursue far-reaching reforms, rather than triangulate their way with incremental measures. Say what you will about Obama, but he's living up to both ideals--as much as any president in my lifetime.

The proof is in the pudding, as they say, and so I won't go quite that far. Yet. There has been far too much dithering and poor leadership on the part of Obama and the White House -- and I say that as one who has generally given the president the benefit of the doubt on this and other key issues and who considers himself nothing if not an enthusiastic supporter of the president -- to assume that his apparent determination and his "living up to both ideals" are truly genuine.

I suspect they are, and I am fairly confident that Obama has crossed the Rubicon, but I'll hold my applause. After all, there is still much that could go wrong.

Labels: , , , , ,

Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

We used to call it "trust busting"

By Carl

Finally, some rational thought from the Federal Reserve:

"I think the disagreeable but sound thing to do regarding institutions that are TBTF [ed. note. Too Big To Fail] is to dismantle them over time into institutions that can be prudently managed and regulated across borders," he said. "And this should be done before the next financial crisis, because it surely cannot be done in the middle of a crisis."

Adam Smith would roll over in his grave to understand how perverted his elegant economic system, for all its initial flaws, has become, corrupted by the aggregation of money, power, and influence. He intended for small businesses to compete against each other to provide goods and services to consumers.

Indeed, our Founding Fathers had a great and long debate about even opening up a national bank which would serve as a 800 lb gorilla in the banking system to provide leverage against large business combinations attempting to wrest control of the national money supply. Inevitably, businesses of all sizes fail. It's just a question of time.

If a major multinational bank fails, it doesn't just hurt its employees and shareholders as we've seen. It threatens the entire nation, from its financial security right down to its physical security.

And that's not good.

"Too Big To Fail" is, quite simply, too big. Full stop.

We've discussed on this blog the marvels of distributed power generation. Money is power. Banks should be hacked down to manageable sizes that service the communities they are located in, with no direct entanglements in regions where they have no business being in, and I don't just mean geographic. I mean economic sectors, business sectors, even political sectors.

Will this harm the banking system? I don't think so. I think the system will evolve, perhaps parent corporations that can hold smaller banks under an umbrella, with governmental oversight to make sure there isn't as much crossover as there is now will be established.

One thing is certain: the banking system we have now is on the road to yet another collapse. Businesses fail. Industries fail. Banking will fail again unless we address the inherent flaws immediately.

(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

The death of a blogger: Jon Swift passes away

I don't have much to add to Carl's post below, nor to Tom Watson's and Skippy's lovely remembrances. As we learned from his mother, commenting at his blog, Al Weisel, known in the blogosphere as Jon Swift, died suddenly the other day.

I didn't know him well at all, but he was gracious with his links to this blog, and he was a blogger I admired a great deal, one who never failed both to amuse and to edify, often simultaneously. (With Skippy, he was also the co-organizer of Blogroll Amnesty Day, an invaluable uniting of non-A-list liberal and progressive blogs, like this one.)

You see, part of what makes the blogosphere -- including the liberal-progressive corner of it we inhabit -- so great is the plethora of different voices. And Al/Jon had one of the most distinct, a faux conservative who, like Stephen Colbert, used his chosen medium to unravel the absurdities of those who bore the brunt of his satire. In this, he was extremely effective. There are a lot of us out here. Some of us post a lot, others less. Some do reporting or op-ed-style commentating, some write more personally, more eccentrically. Some link a lot, and drive traffic, others don't. Some go long, some prefer short, snappy posts. Some are detached and analytical, some are snarky and direct. You get the point.

Well, there was no one quite like Jon Swift, and the blogosphere, and our corner of it, will be poorer without him.

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

Godspeed Jon Swift

By Carl

Jon Swift, or as we now know, Al Weisel, was a writer to envy, and I often did. His talent and dedication to both entertain while informing was unparalleled in Blogtopia (© Skippy, The Bush Kangaroo). He was always willing to lend a hand to a C-List blogger like me, and would sometimes comment here or email me if he thought a piece I had up was particularly interesting.

I envy him his ability to remain in character while writing words that thoroughly skewer that character's outlook. I wondered sometimes if he cringed at some of the things he was forced to say in order to get to his point.

He was Stephen Colbert, only funny without being a cardboard cutout. Clearly, he thought his way through positions he abhorred and found the comedy inherent in the ignorance it took to hold ludicrous thoughts.

He was a humourist's humourist. His ability to mine irony and poignance did not end with him. He died on the way to his father's funeral of a broken heart, literally. Not only that, but the last post he left us, almost a year ago, was acknowledging a friend's terrible tragic loss.

Its title? "Sometimes There Are No Words." It was on that thread that his mother notified us of his loss. I like to think that he looked down, cringed at first, then got the joke.

Here's to you, Mr. Swift, Mr. Weisel! A scotch in your honor, with a glass turned upside down.

Unless, you know, you'd like to return and share it with me...

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

What the Vancouver Olympics meant to Canada


The Olympics are over, and many of us Canadians are experiencing a serious post-Olympic hangover -- it was such a high, after all, and it's hard now to adjust back to "normalcy" -- but there is no denying that the Vancouver Winter Games was a deeply meaningful event for this country. Whether there is a long-term effect remains to be seen, but I do think the Olympics tapped our deep reservoir of rarely seen national pride in a way that few events ever have, if any at all to this degree. It felt good to win, but it also felt good to display ourselves, and our wonderful country, to the world.

Here's what I wrote Sunday night, when it was all over:

It's been a wonderful two-plus weeks, with some wonderful moments. When we won the hockey gold today, I jumped off the couch and celebrated like I rarely do for anything. I can't remember ever being that excited for a sporting event. Maybe when the Steelers won the Super Bowl last year, but not even that matched today. That win was the highlight, along with the men's curling win, but I found myself cheering on my fellow Canadians -- and genuinely appreciating the athletes from all the countries -- frequently. Whatever it was -- short-track speedskating or skeleton, even figure staking -- I was there, and I was united with the rest of Canada, urging our men and women on.

It's hard to believe, actually, that the Olympics could mean this much to me, or to Canadians generally, but they did, and now they're over, and hopefully some of that togetherness will persist.

There's a reason this is the greatest country in the world. And it was on full display these past couple of weeks.

No one put it better, though, than Stephen Brunt, our finest sportswriter and commentator (writing for The Globe and Mail and appearing regularly on radio and TV). This is a video essay he put together on what the Olympics meant to Canada. (It's introduced by Brian Williams, the main studio host for CTV.) It's brilliant, it's magnificent, it's beautiful, it's moving, and, as far as I'm concerned, it's right on. And, amazingly, it was done before our historic gold-medal hockey win on Sunday, the singular triumph that really brought this country together.

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

Quote of the Day: Mark Pryor on reconciliation and health-care reform

The Hill quotes the Arkansas Democrat:

I haven't seen all the details of what the president's trying to do with reconciliation, and it's not my first choice. But under the circumstances, it may be the only way to pass legislation around here... It's not my preference. But we have reconciliation. It's in the rules. We can do it if we want to. My preference would be to have a big, bipartisan agreement, but in today's environment it's hard to do that.

I don't really have much to add.

Of course it's not anyone's "first choice."

Of course it's not anyone's "preference."

Of course it's "hard" to pass bipartisan legislation."

Of course it's "the only way," what with Republicans behaving like the obstructionist extremists they are.

But let us note again, just to be clear, that no one is talking about passing the entirety of the reform package through reconciliation. And why? Because both the House and Senate have already passed legislation.

Now it's just a matter of using reconciliation to pass improvements, or patches, to the Senate bill (assuming, that is, that the House passes the Senate bill).

At least Pryor, who's one of the more conservative Democrats in the Senate, seems to get what needs to be done.


The same cannot be said of thankfully-soon-to-be-retiring Evan Bayh of Indiana, a fellow centrist Democrat, who said yesterday, presumably with a straight face, that reconciliation would take the Senate into "uncharted waters," as if it's never been used before. Is he really that stupid, and that ignorant? Does he not remember what Republicans did when Bush was president, not so very many years ago? Does he have absolutely no grasp of even recent Senate history? It's like he's intentionally trying to subvert Democratic efforts, that is, the efforts of the majority party, his party, to pass meaningful health-care reform.

But what else is new?

Labels: , , , , ,

Bookmark and Share

Your moment of Rachel

By Creature

Orrin Hatch is a lying McLiar (and the Washington Post is his shameless enabler).

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

Stuff to Read (3/3/10)

Here's the second entry in our ongoing series. The first is here. What I'm doing is linking to interesting articles, reviews, stories, etc., often with a sentence or two of commentary, that I've recently come across. And I'll be doing it on an irregular basis.

Not too much today, as I've been pretty busy, and tired, not to mention preoccupied with the Olympics and with preparing for my upcoming fantasy baseball draft. (I have the #2 overall pick in a deep 12-team league with a bunch of categories. Hello, Hanley. Welcome to the defending champs.)


Slate: "The Chin Is In," by Troy Patterson -- Slate's TV critic takes look at Jay Leno's first Tonight Show after his return to the 11:35 slot: "What rankles is that, in his unwillingness to curb his uncontrolled greed for camera time, Leno was really, really uncool... Leno is serving something that, aimed to please as many palates as possible, is the same old pablum as before, the only difference being that it now leaves a bitter taste in the mouth." I didn't watch it, and I'm glad I didn't.

Actually, that's it. (I've also been reading through NFL mock drafts, complementing my frequent reading of the Steelers page at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, just to get a sense of what my beloved team might do in the real draft in April. But I'll spare you.)

Although, allow me again to recommend, highly, Jonathan Chait's new blog at The New Republic (in a way, the successor to The Plank, which I miss dearly.) Along with his colleague, Jonathan Cohn, he's been doing some fantastic commentary on health-care reform, though he touches on a wide variety of subjects. I check back frequently so as not to miss anything.

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Postage due

By Carl 

One of the more idiotic things about conservatives is this crying need to privatize everything, as if somehow private companies could do a far better job than the government in everything. 

Case in point: The U.S. Postal Service. The USPS is mandated to deliver mail to every single household in America, and to do it for a flat rate. A letter costs 44 cents, whether it travels one mile, ten, or three thousand. 

Conservatives would have us privatize that service, somehow ensuring that the statutory service provisions would survive privatization. They wouldn't, as anyone who's waited for the UPS man to come can tell you. 

Now, however, we've reached a point where we may have to make changes to the Postal Service:

WASHINGTON—U.S. Postmaster General John Potter expects to deliver more bad news Tuesday to postal customers, employees and Congress, revealing forecasts for continued losses that can be stanched only with higher prices and reduced service.

Faced with mounting red ink, the Postal Service will seek to cut back mail delivery to five days a week starting next year, to raise rates on some postal services beyond what it's currently allowed to charge, and to impose emergency rate increases.

A plan the Postal Service will file with the U.S. Postal Regulatory Commission later this month aims to scale back delivery in 2011 from the current six-days-a-week schedule. Discussions with postal regulators over rate increases are under way as well; increases being sought could result in sharp increases in some postal rates, including for newspapers and magazines.

The USPS operates as a not-for-profit agency. This is a good thing. It keeps our mailing costs down. 

The problem, to me, seems to come in the form of the admixture of a not-for-profit agency saddled with the burden of providing service to for-profit companies. Now, toss in the Internet, meaning e-mail, online bill payment, and online reading materials that used to be delivered by the USPS, and you begin to understand the problem. 

There's enormous waste in the system that needs to be accounted for before we talk about cutting back services to five days a week. This wouldn't be the first service cuts imposed. Believe it or not, when I was a lad, the postman dropped off mail twice a day! 

I know! Astounding, isn't it? 

First thing we need to do is to reduce the volume of junk mail that clogs our mailboxes. Direct marketers, catalog operations, and other "snail spammers" ought to pay for the luxury of jamming my mailbox so full that sometimes I don't get urgent mail because it's been crushed into the bottom of my box. 

A dual service, then, would be served by upping the bulk mail rate on non-periodicals. It would slow the tide of junk while providing a needed boost of cash. Trust me, catalog providers won't stop sending catalogs if we doubled the rate. Too, so many catalogs are now online that a smart marketer would send out fliers instead with a representative sample, directing people to a website. 

Second, the USPS ought to get into tighter competition with the private carriers like Fedex. Fedex funnels their package services through central hubs like Memphis, TN, even if you're shipping across town. Crosstown packages could get a guarantee of overnight deliveries at prices deeply discounted from Fedex's. Hell, match Fedex pricing and promise same-day service, and the volume will jump (courier services charge a lot more, so the USPS would find itself in a mid-price point). 

Third, encourage people to visit the post office more often. Open non-mail related kiosks, for one thing. How about a selection of greeting cards? Or newspapers, the same ones people get delivered? Give people a reason to go to the post office, and then give them a reason to buy there.

Those are just off the top of my head. Do you guys have any other ideas? 

(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

The definition of is

It's funny how the things that characterized the United States in its best and most prosperous years are being characterized as bad for the country and a one way valve in the sewer pipe that leads to Marxism, while the days before we had things like unemployment insurance saw poverty, hopelessness, homelessness, broken families, social unrest and egregious injustice far beyond anything we've had in generations.

Why, for instance, are unemployment benefits bad for America? Because they encourage people to stay jobless, said smiling Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) Yes, I've noticed that the families living in old cars, scrounging in dumpsters, and sleeping in the woods or in shelters are really living the Life of Riley in increasing numbers these days, taking vacations in the sun while hard working Republican senators who have free health care have to support them. I mean that we were once the most productive people on earth even with social security, unemployment and disability benefits doesn't really tell us anything, does it?

Of course, being of the same party, Republican Senate Whip Kyl would likely have defended most anything fellow Republican Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY) said that was an attack on one of those things that makes us a nation rather than a bunch of individuals looking out for themselves alone. Unemployment benefits are one of those things: things that make us a society with common goals and values rather than serfs doing without to support the lifestyles of corporate barons -- and senators.

Of course, to a Republican, a hypothetical reason for something to be bad is more to be believed and waved about as a tribal emblem than any mere empirical observation to the contrary. Unemployment insurance makes people lazy and unwilling to work, just like life insurance makes them want to die, health insurance makes them want to have surgery and liability insurance makes them suicidal drivers -- and insurance itself, being a system for pooling risk, taking a small amount from each participant so that no individual has a catastrophic loss, must therefore be Communism. The true Randian Monad will never accept any cost that might benefit anyone else as well as himself -- right? Of course the idea of insurance is saved from Communism only if instead of a 3% administration fee, someone makes 30 or 40% from it: the more money, the more justified by the grace of profit, amen. Unemployment insurance

doesn't create new jobs. In fact, if anything, continuing to pay people unemployment compensation is a disincentive for them to seek new work,

says the senator, but of course that depends on what the definition if is is. If is denotes observable reality, the statement is shaky for want of evidence. If is denotes adherence to ad hoc dogma nailed together as an obstructive barricade, then perhaps Kyl makes sense. I'll leave it up to you as to whether you believe his peremptory proclamation or your lying eyes.

If you do side with Mister Jingles from Arizona, I'd like to ask you why, if we can't afford to temporarily keep the unemployed from starvation without running the risk of irreversible Communism and the irretrievable loss of precious bodily fluids, why then can we can bail out millionaires and give them special tax relief without similar concerns? After all, experience dismisses the argument that they will create jobs with the extra millions and shows that they will buy unregulated derivatives, invest in hedge funds and pump up the market until it crashes. Kyl? Are you listening, Kyl?

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

Labels: , , , , ,

Bookmark and Share

Paterson sought to influence domestic abuse case in support of aide

Things aren't looking good for New York Gov. David Paterson:

Gov. David A. Paterson personally directed two state employees to contact the woman who had accused his close aide of assaulting her, according to two people with direct knowledge of the governor's actions.

Mr. Paterson instructed his press secretary, Marissa Shorenstein, to ask the woman to publicly describe the episode as nonviolent, according to a third person, who was briefed on the matter. That description would contradict the woman’s accounts to the police and in court.

Mr. Paterson also enlisted another state employee, Deneane Brown, a friend of both the governor and the accuser, to make contact with the woman before she was due in court to finalize an order of protection against the aide, David W. Johnson, the two people with direct knowledge said. Ms. Brown, an employee of the Division of Housing and Community Renewal, reached out to the woman on more than one occasion over a period of several days and arranged a phone call between the governor and the woman, Mr. Johnson's companion.

After the calls from Ms. Brown and the conversation with the governor, the woman failed to appear for the court hearing on Feb. 8, and the case was dropped.

These accounts provide the first evidence that Mr. Paterson helped direct an effort to influence the accuser.

Actually, it looks like Paterson is approaching Blagojevich territory, if he's not there already. And one could make the case, if this is true, that what Paterson did was worse than what the disgraced Illinois ex-governor did.

The buying and selling of political office is bad, very bad, but the subversion of the justice system and the use of one's office to influence a domestic abuse case? That takes misconduct to a whole new level.

Paterson has already announced that he's not running for election this year. Given this rising scandal, he may not make even make it to the end of his term.

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

Some kind of savior

By Capt. Fogg

Pray for America: do all you can to block Obama's agenda says a letter from a local reader in yesterday's paper. The online edition has 165 comments, mostly favorable. I can't bear to read things like this any more -- and it's everywhere.

The agenda, of course is a hysterically hypothetical fabrication and without much resembling factual support from anything the administration has done, said aloud or published: "grabbing" our guns, raising taxes on working people and the middle class, giving massive handouts to the indigent, encouraging terrorist attacks, putting privilege in peril and deliberately raising the debt -- and of course sabotaging the messianic mission of Saint Sarah D'Arc in a most egregiously unfair way. Most of all, his agenda is dangerous to the divine right to make huge and ever increasing profits through collusion and dubious restraints of trade with no regard for the suffering of Americans who have to watch their children die so that some corporation can make 40% profits year after year.

"Americans need to stop sleeping and stand up before this becomes a third world nation" said the voice at the other end of the table this past weekend. "They saw this guy as some kind of savior and someone who would give them something for nothing."

The table, of course was in a room full of millionaires observing the change of watch at our yacht club, which as one expects, has a policy against discussing politics at club functions. Such angry lapses are more frequent of late however, as the propaganda and lies percolates up from the sewers of Fox, the Corporate funded think tanks and policy centers with deceptive, patriotic names.

Of course this voter remembers the posters, the paintings, the rhetoric announcing George W. Bush as being part of the second coming, sitting at the feet of and being anointed by Christ, and this writer certainly doesn't see either man in a religious context. Obama was the lesser risk of more of the same and vastly more intelligent of the two candidates but never mind, the meme is abroad and pandemic and there seems to be no way to stop it. With all indications that this administration and the current court has no interest in additional gun control legislation much less in disarming the country, the rage against Obama, the gun grabber grows. Obama, the clownish, dishonest watermelon-eating political devil from Birth of a Nation. Although over 90% of America has got a tax break, the conviction that Obama is going to squeeze them persists, driving otherwise sane people into public displays of ignorant rage.

Extending jobless benefits is now "communism" and it costs too much. The unemployed are going to have to suffer because the millionaires at yacht clubs all over America need the lowest tax rates in the civilized world to stave off Communism and can't be expected to pay down that debt incurred by Bush and Obama in order to bail them out.

Yes, America needs to stand up and continue howling as though Count Barackula had risen from the grave to suck us all dry and bark the louder so that nothing true, reasonable, factual or sane can intrude on the festival of tea soaked madness.

Obama's agenda, if you believe your eyes, seems to be about pacifying corporate (Republican) interests. It seems to be more of the same as concerns our two forever wars, the "Patriot Act" and weakness about standing up to the health care and drug cartel. His supporters weren't looking for someone who heard God's voice, but to get rid of a President who heard voices but not American voices. They were looking for a fixer and not a savior and if fixing the mess Republicans created takes more than an eighth of the time it took to ruin the economy, some are still willing to wait, just as we're still waiting for the "surge" to "win" the war we were called traitors for opposing. ( Remember when we were America-haters for suggesting it might take longer than 6 weeks?)

Third world country? Isn't that one where all the wealth is owned by a tiny percentage of the people? Is that Obama's fault or is that the result of the deliberate and consistent tax policies of the Republicans? Isn't that one where the police and military answer to the rulers and not the people and have a frightening amount of power? Who wrote the patriot act, ended Posse Comitatus and Habeas Corpus, built secret prisons off-shore so as to bypass not only the constitution but the fundamental and natural rights of man upon which it is based?

No, have another martini, go sleep it off on your yacht and tomorrow get up all refreshed and cry about Obama's agenda all over again because you'll never really get over that sense of entitlement, you'll never be as free of responsibility to your country as you'd like or as wealthy as you deserve to be.

(Cross posted from Human Voices)


Bookmark and Share

Ford's out, won't challenge Gillibrand in New York

"Independent" Democrat Harold Ford Jr. has decided not to challenge New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. As he writes in an op-ed in today's Times:

I've examined this race in every possible way, and I keep returning to the same fundamental conclusion: If I run, the likely result would be a brutal and highly negative Democratic primary -- a primary where the winner emerges weakened and the Republican strengthened.

I refuse to do anything that would help Republicans win a Senate seat in New York, and give the Senate majority to the Republican.

How thoughtful of him. And how full of shit. He says some of the right things, without ever saying much at all -- he is a man seemingly without principles, a man whose positions on the issues, such as health-care reform, shift according to political expediency, a man whose candidacy, in Jonathan Chait's words, would have been "an epiphenomenon of Wall Street's retreat into a fantasy world -- but he is nothing if not an egotist. Sure, he would have beaten Gillibrand, but "the party bosses" got in the way, trying to "intimidate" him against running. Sure, he gets how "tough" it is out there -- like he really knows -- but he won't run because it's too important that he not. Not that any of it is his fault, of course.

As I've written before, I wasn't exactly much of a Gillibrand fan when Gov. David Paterson appointed her to replace Hillary Clinton last year, but my sense since then is that she's done fairly well. Indeed, I have come to like her a great deal, particularly her admirable leadership on DADT repeal. She deserves to remain in office, and she'll need the full weight of her party behind her if she is to beat the likely Republican candidate, former Gov. George Pataki.

As for Ford, did New York really need yet another carpetbagger (sorry, Hillary), and a centrist, self-serving, Lieberman-like (i.e., thorn in Democrats' sides, often more Republican than Democrat) one at that, one with close ties to Wall Street, one who was being pushed to run by prominent, NYC-oriented donors and insiders who don't like, and who look down upon, Gillibrand's upstate credentials? Certainly not. New York doesn't, the Senate doesn't, and the Democratic Party doesn't.

(In New York, as The Albany Project's Adama Brown writes, "Ford's candidacy represented a money-first view of politics," and his "timely demise" is "a win for the fledgling pro-reform movement in New York State politics," the movement that opposes a free-for-all system that "allow[s] a disturbing amount of power to be wielded by a relatively small number of people who have money to burn.")

As Adam Bink writes at Open Left, "Ford will go back to his private helicopter tours of NYC, his breakfasts at the Regency Hotel with the Giants and Jets owners, his pedicures and multi-million dollar bonuses -- all times ten. One thing the moneyed political set loves is a media star and for his personal life, perhaps Ford as 'the-guy-who-threatened-to-run-but-chose-not-to-for-the-sake-of-the-party' is the path he's wanted all along."

It can't be good riddance, and it's simply disgusting that Ford will continue to profit mightily from his lucrative connections (and from selling out and cozying up to Wall Street), but at least he's not running. We need to get behind Gillibrand, who is the right Democrat for the job, and a real Democrat at that.

Labels: , , ,

Bookmark and Share