Monday, September 29, 2008

POLITICS - On the Bailout '08

"Obama's bailout smartest and fairest" by Diane Francis, National Post

The Bush regime put about as much due diligence and thoughtfulness into this $700-billion bailout scheme as it did when before invading Iraq. When Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson testified at the Senate this week it was appalling: He had no detailed plans but a simple three-page bailout proposal to take to Congress. That’s why the pushback that’s roiling markets and politics this week.

Within a day or two, I think it's highly likely there will be the announced adoption of the four smart and fair conditions as have been suggested by Barack Obama:

  1. Taxpayers should have equity (link), not just debt. This means they will have an upside as well as a downside.

  2. Oversight will be bipartisan and without conflicts of interest.

  3. Homeowners must be helped as well as their lenders in this mess. This means a moratorium on foreclosures involving principal residences. This could be done without infusion, but with non-cash backstopping and would help stop the property price crash.

  4. Caps on salaries and other compensation will be strictly imposed on any institution that receives tax dollars.

In other words, taxpayers should own, not merely bail out, America’s financial institutions. And borrowers as well as lenders should be given breathing space. Equity with strings attached and an upside or downside is what happened in 1994 when Mexico hit the proverbial wall after terrorists attacked in Chiapas and after years of terrible fiscal and financial sector management by former President Carlos Salinas.

An overnight rescue of $60 billion was cobbled together in a matter of hours by then-President Bill Clinton and his team of advisors in partnership with Canada and the European Union stopped a financial panic in Mexican debts and equities and the money was repaid in half the time allotted, netting rescuers a tidy profit.

Clean up Dodge City

But to create trust in American “paper” going forward, the yanks are going to have to clean up their act. I would guess that thousands will be fined, RICO’d, sued and jailed over their roles in the fraud that has characterized the U.S. financial sector for years.

Germany’s Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück said in der Spiegel today that the effects of the financial markets crisis would be felt in economies and labor markets worldwide for years to come.

The world will never be the same as it was before the crisis," the Social Democrat said, adding," the US will lose its status as the superpower of the global financial system.

He blamed the current crisis partly on Wall Street's "blind drive for double-digit profits" and massive bonuses for executives and bankers. He also called for greater regulation in financial markets and a ban on short-selling, and he suggested a role for the International Monetary Fund as a global markets watchdog. He said the unbridled "race for profits" had to be stopped, and that banks should only be able to conduct high risk transactions if they have sufficient capital resources and they report the risks in their balance sheets.

Consensus is that the global economy will be ugly for many months.

Note, the "equity" link to Wikipedia has an accurate explanation, I cross-checked with Encyclopædia Britannica.

As to my personal opinion? I really do NOT like bailing out these companies.

BUT, I also realize the sad fact, they hold so much of the monetary assists of our nation's economy that letting them fall would be disastrous. I suspect it would lead to a Depression Era crash of our economy (at least in relative terms).

We, as a nation, have violated a very, very old adage that is applicable in this context; "Don't but your eggs in one basket." We have allowed individual big companies to hold much too much of our national wealth. This is just what we get when Freddy Mac, Fanny Mae, and the Investment Banks hold so much of our wealth.

Then add the GOP's Lazy Fare Economics (aka no regulation) and "buyer beware" (the seller has no responsibility in offering there products to an unsuspecting buyer), you get this mess.

Now, are Americans willing to endure the long-term hurt of a new Depression Era or not? Willing to absorb the impact on jobs, income, savings, investments (IRA and other retirement schemes), and their personal net-worth?

Whatever, we're in allot of hurt.

Friday, September 26, 2008

ELECTION '08 - The Science

"Obama Endorsed by 61 Nobel Laureates" from Nick Anthis, Scientific Activist

Yesterday, the Obama campaign released a letter of endorsement signed by 61 Nobel Laureates (click here for a nicer looking pdf). Michael Stebbins of Scientists and Engineers for America points out that "this is the largest number of Nobel Laureates to ever endorse a candidate for office."

And, why should we be surprised? Obama's answers to a scientific questionnaire released last month were scientifically sound and indicative of good scientific advising. Then, earlier this month, we got to find out who has been behind that solid scientific advising. Wired gave a good rundown of the five-member team (which includes two of the Nobel Laureate signatories of yesterday's letter) made up of Peter Agre, Don Lamb, Sharon Long, Gilbert Omenn, and Harold Varmus.

McCain, on the other hand, has refused to identify his science team.

Of course McCain has his "scientific" team. Reverend No-to-sex, Pastor Kill-the-baby-killers, and Bishop Evolution-is-anti-God.


"It was only a matter of time" by Shashank Bengali, McClatchy News

This email came over from a friend via Facebook. If this is a Nigerian 419er's idea of a joke, I think it's a pretty good one:

Dearest one,

This email may come as a surprise to you, but I need the assistance of someone with trust and discretion and I know that I can rely on you. I need to ask you to support an urgent secret business relationship with a transfer of funds of great magnitude.

I am the head of the Treasury Department of the Republic of America. Due to a crisis in my country, I have the opportunity to transfer 800 billion dollars US. If you would assist me in this transfer, it would be most profitable to you. This transaction is 100% safe.

This is a matter of great urgency. We cannot directly transfer these funds in the names of our close friends because we are constantly under surveillance. My family lawyer advised me that I should look for a reliable and trustworthy person who will act as a next of kin so the funds can be transferred.

Please reply with all of your bank accounts, IRA and college fund account numbers and those of your children and grandchildren so that we may transfer your commission for this transaction. After I receive that information, I will respond with detailed information about safeguards that will be used to protect the funds.

Yours Faithfully,
Henry Paulson
U.S. Secretary of the Treasury

CHINA - Some Never Learn Department

"China Announces Launch-Success Details - Before Launch" from Ironsides, Slashdot

After faking the fireworks at the Olympics this year, one would have thought China had learned their lesson. Now, it appears they announced the success of their manned space mission before liftoff even occured, complete with dialogue.

POLITICS - Bailout House of Cards

"Talks Implode During a Day of Chaos; Fate of Bailout Plan Remains Unresolved" reported by David M. Herszenhorn, Carl Hulse, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, and written by Ms. Stolberg; New York Times 9/26/2008


The day began with an agreement that Washington hoped would end the financial crisis that has gripped the nation. It dissolved into a verbal brawl in the Cabinet Room of the White House, urgent warnings from the president and pleas from a Treasury secretary who knelt before the House speaker and appealed for her support.

“If money isn’t loosened up, this sucker could go down,” President Bush declared Thursday as he watched the $700 billion bailout package fall apart before his eyes, according to one person in the room.

It was an implosion that spilled out from behind closed doors into public view in a way rarely seen in Washington.

By 10:30 p.m., after another round of talks, Congressional negotiators gave up for the night and said they would try again on Friday. Left uncertain was the fate of the bailout, which the White House says is urgently needed to fix broken financial and credit markets, as well as whether the first presidential debate would go forward as planned Friday night in Mississippi.

When Congressional leaders and Senators John McCain and Barack Obama, the two major party presidential candidates, trooped to the White House on Thursday afternoon, most signs pointed toward a bipartisan agreement on a grand compromise that could be accepted by all sides and signed into law by the weekend. It was intended to pump billions of dollars into the financial system, restoring liquidity and keeping credit flowing to businesses and consumers.

“We’re in a serious economic crisis,” Mr. Bush told reporters as the meeting began shortly before 4 p.m. in the Cabinet Room, adding, “My hope is we can reach an agreement very shortly.”

But once the doors closed, the smooth-talking House Republican leader, John A. Boehner of Ohio, surprised many in the room by declaring that his caucus could not support the plan to allow the government to buy distressed mortgage assets from ailing financial companies.

Mr. Boehner pressed an alternative that involved a smaller role for the government, and Mr. McCain, whose support of the deal is critical if fellow Republicans are to sign on, declined to take a stand.

The talks broke up in angry recriminations, according to accounts provided by a participant and others who were briefed on the session, and were followed by dueling news conferences and interviews rife with partisan finger-pointing.

More in the full 2 page article

I do notice one thing, I seem to remember the figure $750 billion quoted awhile back.

OUR COURTS - One Win for Human Rights

"Court Orders Release of Detainee Abuse Photographs" by Steven Aftergood, Secrecy News

A federal court of appeals this week affirmed that 21 photographs depicting abusive treatment of detainees by U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan must be disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act.

“The public interest in disclosure of these photographs is strong,” the Second Circuit panel concluded in a September 22 ruling (pdf) in favor of the American Civil Liberties Union and other plaintiffs.

The ruling carefully analyzed and rejected several government arguments against disclosure.

Among other things, the government had contended that the photographs should be exempted from disclosure under FOIA exemption 7(F), which protects law enforcement records that “could reasonably be expected to endanger the life or physical safety of any individual.” Government attorneys said that release of the photographs (which were gathered in the course of an Army criminal investigation) could be used to incite violence against U.S. forces, coalition forces or civilians in Iraq or Afghanistan, and should therefore be withheld.

But even if potential incitement is a valid concern, the court said, it would not provide a basis for invoking FOIA exemption 7(F), which was intended to serve as “a shield against specific threats to particular individuals arising out of law enforcement investigations, never as a means of suppressing worldwide political violence.” The exemption is not supposed to be “an all-purpose damper on global controversy.”

In short, the court ruled, the cited FOIA exemption cannot be used as “an ersatz classification system” to bar access to these unclassified photographs.

Nor can the government legitimately invoke the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions that protect prisoners “against insults and public curiosity.”

“Both of these treaties were designed to prevent the abuse of prisoners,” the court explained. “Neither treaty is intended to curb those who seek information about prisoner abuse in an effort to help deter it.”

At the end of World War II, the court noted, the government itself “widely disseminated photographs of prisoners in Japanese and German prison and concentration camps. These photographs of emaciated prisoners, corpses, and remains of prisoners depicted detainees in states of powerlessness and subjugation similar to those endured by the detainees depicted in the photographs at issue here. Yet the United States championed the use and dissemination of such photographs to hold perpetrators accountable.”

In the same way, “Release of the photographs is likely to further the purposes of the Geneva Conventions by deterring future abuse of prisoners,” the court concluded. A copy of the 52 page ruling in ACLU et al v. Department of Defense et al is posted here.

“These photographs demonstrate that the abuse of prisoners held in U.S. custody abroad was not aberrational and not confined to Abu Ghraib, but the result of policies adopted by high-ranking officials,” said Amrit Singh, the ACLU attorney who argued the case.

“Their release is critical for bringing an end to the administration’s torture policies and for deterring further prisoner abuse,” Ms. Singh said.

There are those out there that believe such decisions are detrimental to our security. But others, like me, believe that America's best protection is supporting Human Rights even if it SEEMS risky in short-sight.

Terrorist themselves will always hate us, and we cannot change their mindset. What observing Human Rights gets us is some support from the moderates in the Middle East and Muslim world, which we really need to combat the Islamic Terrorists.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

MIDDLE EAST - Syrian Nuclear Facility

"Evidence-based bombing" by Scott Ritter, Guardian UK

By publishing intelligence on a possible Syrian nuclear facility, the US has endorsed after the fact Israel's illegal use of force in attacking it.

It looks as if Israel may, in fact, have had reason to believe that Syria was constructing, with the aid and assistance of North Korea, a facility capable of housing a nuclear reactor. The United States Central Intelligence Agency recently released a series of images, believed to have been made from a videotape obtained from Israeli intelligence, which provide convincing, if not incontrovertible, evidence that the "unused military building" under construction in eastern Syria was, in fact, intended to be used as a nuclear reactor. Syria continues to deny such allegations as false.

On the surface, the revelations seem to bolster justification not only for the Israeli air strike of September 6 2007, which destroyed the facility weeks or months before it is assessed to have been ready for operations, but also the hard-line stance taken by the administration of President George W Bush toward both Syria and North Korea regarding their alleged covert nuclear cooperation. In the aftermath of the Israeli air strike, Syria razed the destroyed facility and built a new one in its stead, ensuring that no follow-up investigation would be able to ascertain precisely what had transpired there.

Largely overlooked in the wake of the US revelations is the fact that, even if the US intelligence is accurate (and there is no reason to doubt, at this stage, that it is not), Syria had committed no crime, and Israel had no legal justification to carry out its attack. Syria is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and under the provisions of the comprehensive safeguards agreement, is required to provide information on the construction of any facility involved in nuclear activity "as early as possible before nuclear material is introduced to a new facility". There is no evidence that Syria had made any effort to introduce nuclear material to the facility under construction.

While the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the global watchdog responsible for the implementation of nuclear safeguards inspections, has pushed for the universal adherence to a more stringent safeguards standard known as the "additional protocol of inspections", such a measure is purely voluntary, and Syria has refused to sign up to any such expansion of IAEA inspection activity until such time as Israel signs the NPT and subjects its nuclear activities to full safeguards inspections. While vexing, the Syrian position is totally in keeping with its treaty obligations, and so it is Syria, not Israel, that was in full conformity with international law at the time of Israel's September 6 2007 attack.

The United States and Israel contend that the Syrian-North Korean construction project was part of a covert nuclear weapons program. However, even the United States admits that the facility under construction in Syria lacked any reprocessing capacity, meaning its utility for producing plutonium for a nuclear bomb was nil. Rather than serving as the tip of the iceberg for a nuclear weapons program, it seems more likely that the Syrian facility was intended for the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

Following the same path as Iran, Syria most probably was positioning itself to present the world with a fait acompli, noting that the current US-Israeli posture concerning the regime in Damascus would not enable Syria to pursue and complete any nuclear program declared well in advance. By building the reactor in secret, Syria would be positioned to declare the completed facility to the IAEA prior to the introduction of any nuclear material, and then hope to hide behind the shield of the IAEA in order to prevent any Israeli retaliation.

But this is all speculation. By bombing the Syrian facility, Israel not only retarded any Syrian nuclear ambition, peaceful or otherwise, but also precluded a full, definitive investigation into the matter by the international community. Perhaps fearful that Syrian adherence to the NPT would underscore its own duplicity in that regard, the Israeli decision to bomb Syria not only allowed the Syrian effort to be defined as weapons-related (an unproven and unlikely allegation), but by extension reinforced the Israeli (and American) contention that the nuclear activity in Iran was weapons-related as well.

The international debate that has taken place about the Syrian facility shows how successful the Israeli gambit, in fact, was, since there is virtually no discussion about the fact that Israel violated international law in attacking, without provocation, a sovereign state whose status as a member of the United Nations ostensibly affords it protection from such assault. The American embrace of the Israeli action, and the decision to produce intelligence information about the nature of the bombed facility at this late stage in the game, only reinforces the reality that the United States has turned its back on international law in the form of arms control and non-proliferation agreements.

The Bush administration seeks to use the alleged Syrian nuclear facility as a lynchpin in making its arguments against not only the Iranian nuclear program, but also to scuttle the current discussions with North Korea over its nuclear weapons activities. Having embraced pre-emptive war as a vehicle to pursue its unilateral policy of regime change in Iraq (and having sold that conflict based upon hyped-up weapons of mass destruction charges), it should come as no surprise that the Bush administration would seek to support, and repeat, past patterns of behavior when pursuing similar policies with Syria, Iran and North Korea.

Truth, and the adherence to international law, have never been an impediment to implementation of American policy objectives under the Bush administration.

We Americans need to reconsider our stance when it comes to Israel and the Middle East. We need to conceder NOT taking such a one-sided stance on Israel's policies.

I have always thought of using a "Friends don't let friends drive drunk" approach. A TRUE friend does NOT always support a friends behavior. And if he/she is a true friend, you take away the drunk's keys. This is applicable to Israeli policies, IF we are a true friend of Israel.

ON THE LITE SIDE - More San Diego Cute

"Weighty Matters" by Suzanne Hall, San Diego Zoo Blogs

These days, Bai Yun is weighing in at about 214 pounds (97 kilograms). This seems about where we might expect her to be at this time, more than half way through rearing her cub, Zhen Zhen. As an adult female panda, we have seen Bai Yun’s weight fluctuate from 205 to 231 pounds (93 to 105 kilograms) routinely, depending on where she is in her reproductive cycle.

Before she gives birth, Bai Yun spends several months as an independent panda. She has time to focus on putting on weight, and she feeds and rests her way to the top of that weight range. By the time a birth is weeks away, she is large enough to begin her prepartum fast with some comfort.

When a cub is born, she fasts a bit longer, but now has the added caloric drain of lactating to support her infant. Bears produce high fat, low carbohydrate milk, aiding in rapid growth of their youngsters. Despite fasting, they are able to maintain most of their muscle mass throughout the process. It’s an amazing adaptation, and cold-weather bears can sustain lactation without food or water intake for several months.

As lactation continues, Bai Yun loses weight slowly. Her fat stores are depleted by milk production. Studies show that in mammals, a female is drawing nutrients from her bones to sustain the nutritive nurturing of her infant. By the end of the mother-cub association period, a female’s bones may be lighter as a result. We have found that after 18 months of caring for her cub, Bai Yun’s weight will drop to about 209 pounds (95 kilograms) or lower. Her body is greatly changed from the pre-birth interval.

It can take several months for her to gain weight again. Estrus is also a physiologically demanding time for Bai Yun, as she eats less and is more active when close to peak estrus. However, in the six months between weaning and giving birth again she is able to prepare to again meet the energetic requirements of rearing a cub.

Gao Gao has been maintaining his weight at about 168 to 174 pounds (76 to 79 kilograms). His weight fluctuates a bit due to preferences in bamboo, activity level changes due to enrichment, or other factors. He has always been lighter than Bai Yun. But watch out, Gao Gao…your daughter Su Lin is closing in on you: she has been weighed between 161 and 165 pounds (73 and 75 kilograms) in the last week!

For those keeping track, “little” Zhen Zhen is now closing in on 46 pounds (21 kilograms). Gao Gao can breathe easy knowing his youngest needs another couple of years before overtaking him on the scales!

WORLD - From Inside the UN


"What's my country's name again?" from John Boonstra, UN Dispatch

While the speeches of many other countries' leaders before the UN General Assembly focused on important global issues like the financial crisis, terrorism, and poverty, the main topic for the President of Macedonia the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia was...the name of his own country.

The reason that President Branko Crvenkoski's small Balkan state must officially go by such a cumbersome name is that Greece, its neighbor to the south, objects to using the name of its northernmost province, "Macedonia," for an independent country. Athens senses an implication of irredentism in Macedonia's use of the name, a worry that is particularly acute for the Greeks given the substantial "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonian" population in the province of Macedonia

The dispute may seem silly, but it is serious -- earlier this year, Greece torpedoed Macedonia's EU and NATO bids because an acceptable compromise over the latter's name had not yet been reached. President Crvenkoski, in his speech to the GA, acknowledged the "obvious absurdity of the issue," but pledged gamely to work "actively and constructively" in negotiations with Greece, which have been moderated since 1999 by UN Special Envoy (and American) Matthew Nimetz. Tensions over the name, however, date back to Macedonian independence in 1992, as well as even to the time of Alexander the Great, who was...well, from one of the Macedonias, anyway.

Let's hope the issue is resolved at least by the next Olympics, so that the Macedonian delegation no longer has to march between those of fellow "f" countries Finland and France.

Yes, there are other concerns in the world outside our American elections.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

ELECTION '08 - Ah, Yes, GOP's Gal

"Top Alaskan GOPer Decries McCain Camp's Interference in Palin-Troopergate Probe" by David Corn, Mother Jones

Republican State Senator Lyda Green, the president of the Alaska Senate, has been no fan of Governor Sarah Palin. After John McCain tapped Palin to be his running mate, Green told the Anchorage Daily News, "She's not prepared to be governor. How can she be prepared to be vice president or president? Look at what she's done to this state. What would she do to the nation?"

For two years, Green feuded with Palin over key policy matters. But in recent days, Green has become even more dismayed with the Palin pick, for she believes the McCain-Palin campaign has undermined the rule of law in the Last Frontier. She says she has watched with outrage as McCain-Palin operatives have flown into her state and interfered with the so-called Troopergate investigation--the official, approved-by-the-legislature inquiry into whether Palin dismissed her public safety commissioner because he refused to fire her ex-brother-in-law, a state trooper who went through a messy divorce with Palin's sister.

Calling herself a "raging Republican," Green says, she is "absolutely disgusted, embarrassed, and ashamed" by the McCain-Palin campaign's intervention in the Troopergate probe. Over a week ago, McCain campaign aides began handling the investigation for Palin. The campaign dispatched Edward O'Callaghan, who recently had been a terrorism prosecutor in the Justice Department, to Alaska to oversee Palin's legal strategy. O'Callaghan then declared she would not cooperate with the inquiry. (Before becoming the GOP vice presidential nominee, Palin had repeatedly vowed to cooperate. At one point, she said, "I'm happy to comply, to cooperate. I have absolutely nothing to hide.") And last Thursday, O'Callaghan announced that Palin's husband, Todd, would not heed a subpoena to appear before a state legislative committee to testify about his role in Troopergate.

Meanwhile, state Attorney General Talis Colberg, a Palin appointee, said that he would instruct state employees subpoenaed in the case to refuse to testify (after his Department of Law had already arranged for the state employees to cooperate). And Palin attorney Thomas Van Flein--who once was being paid by the state government and who now says he is being paid privately--last week released official state emails that the Palin camp pointed to as proof that Walt Monegan, the dismissed public safety commissioner, had been fired because of insubordination. (A month earlier Palin had given a reporter a much different account of what had happened with Monegan, and Monegan has produced records he claims undermine the insubordination argument.) Van Flein also sent a letter to Troopergate investigator Steve Branchflower saying that one reason Todd Palin was not complying with the subpoena was that the proceeding "with an ethics investigation involving the Governor during a period in which she is involved in a campaign for public office" is a violation "of due process under the Alaska Constitution." That is, a governor cannot be investigated for an ethics violation whenever he or she is campaigning for an office.

Ever since the McCain operatives became involved, the pushback against the investigation has been fierce. Five Republican legislators filed a lawsuit to stop the investigation, which had been unanimously endorsed by a bipartisan council of the state House and Senate. They claimed the probe was "a 'McCarthyistic' investigation" and was compromised because Democrats who supported the investigation were Obama backers. A Texas-based conservative legal outfit called the Liberty Legal Institute has been representing these lawmakers. Six Alaskan residents filed a similar but separate lawsuit. And the Republican Speaker of the House, John Harris, stepped back from his previous endorsement of the investigation.

The campaign against the investigation has been reminiscent of the Florida recount. Once again, Republican lawyers and political operatives parachute in and mount a kitchen-sink effort to stymie the workings of a local government. All of this has Green upset. "It is very distressing," she says, "that a national campaign would come into our state and tell our attorney general to tell our state employees not to honor subpoenas, to obstruct justice."

She says she is exploring various options. The subpoenas cannot be enforced while the House and Senate are out of session, and neither body is due to return to the state capitol until January. Green, who is retiring as a state senator, says she is looking into whether she could call just the Senate back. The body could vote to instruct the attorney general to change his position; it could vote to impose punishments on those not complying with the subpoenas. But the Republican-controlled House might not be eager to return in order to inconvenience McCain's running mate. (The state Senate has a small Democratic majority; because a Democratic-Republican coalition controls the body, Green, a Republican, is Senate president.)

"We're looking at a lot of choices," Green says. "I just started making phone calls. But we don't want to end up with any court action that says the legislature doesn't have the power to do what we want to do. The court usually defers to the power of the legislature. And my hunch is that it would under normal circumstances. But these are not normal circumstances."

Green is alarmed by the McCain squad's use of hardball tactics and "the length to which they're going to impede and delay" the investigation. The local press conferences held by McCain-Palin aides, she adds, "are vile. They're attacking nice people, saying things that are not true. Walt Monegan has been respected in all circles. To see him used as a scapegoat is very disheartening."

As soon as the McCain ops became involved in the investigation, the Palin camp and its supporters began relying on a mantra: the probe was tainted by politics. "I can assure you Barack Obama has no role in this investigation," Green says. "They keep saying it's tainted. Say something over and over, it's true, right? This has been a very sophisticated intrusion into Alaska, which usually doesn't want people coming up here and telling us what to do."

On Sunday, the Anchorage Daily News ran an Associated Press story headlined, "Troopergate seems to be trapped in limbo." The article noted that even though Branchflower says he plans to release some sort of a report by October 10, "the probe is effectively killed until January." The sub-headline on the article: "McCain campaign uses its power." At the moment--despite Green's efforts--it seems that power may have triumphed.

ECONOMY - Sorry America, You Don't Get a 65mpg Car

"The 65 mpg Ford the U.S. Can't Have" by David Kiley

If ever there was a car made for the times, this would seem to be it: a sporty subcompact that seats five, offers a navigation system, and gets a whopping 65 miles to the gallon. Oh yes, and the car is made by Ford Motor, known widely for lumbering gas hogs.

Ford's 2009 Fiesta ECOnetic goes on sale in November. But here's the catch: Despite the car's potential to transform Ford's image and help it compete with Toyota Motor and Honda Motor in its home market, the company will sell the little fuel sipper only in Europe. "We know it's an awesome vehicle," says Ford America President Mark Fields. "But there are business reasons why we can't sell it in the U.S." The main one: The Fiesta ECOnetic runs on diesel.

Automakers such as Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz have predicted for years that a technology called "clean diesel" would overcome many Americans' antipathy to a fuel still often thought of as the smelly stuff that powers tractor trailers. Diesel vehicles now hitting the market with pollution-fighting technology are as clean or cleaner than gasoline and at least 30% more fuel-efficient.

Yet while half of all cars sold in Europe last year ran on diesel, the U.S. market remains relatively unfriendly to the fuel. Taxes aimed at commercial trucks mean diesel costs anywhere from 40 cents to $1 more per gallon than gasoline. Add to this the success of the Toyota Prius, and you can see why only 3% of cars in the U.S. use diesel. "Americans see hybrids as the darling," says Global Insight auto analyst Philip Gott, "and diesel as old-tech."

None of this is stopping European and Japanese automakers, which are betting they can jump-start the U.S. market with new diesel models. Mercedes-Benz by next year will have three cars it markets as "BlueTec." Even Nissan and Honda, which long opposed building diesel cars in Europe, plan to introduce them in the U.S. in 2010. But Ford, whose Fiesta ECOnetic compares favorably with European diesels, can't make a business case for bringing the car to the U.S.

Too Pricey to Import

First of all, the engines are built in Britain, so labor costs are high. Plus the pound remains stronger than the greenback. At prevailing exchange rates, the Fiesta ECOnetic would sell for about $25,700 in the U.S. By contrast, the Prius typically goes for about $24,000. A $1,300 tax deduction available to buyers of new diesel cars could bring the price of the Fiesta to around $24,400. But Ford doesn't believe it could charge enough to make money on an imported ECOnetic.

Ford plans to make a gas-powered version of the Fiesta in Mexico for the U.S. So why not manufacture diesel engines there, too? Building a plant would cost at least $350 million at a time when Ford has been burning through more than $1 billion a month in cash reserves. Besides, the automaker would have to produce at least 350,000 engines a year to make such a venture profitable. "We just don't think North and South America would buy that many diesel cars," says Fields.

The question, of course, is whether the U.S. ever will embrace diesel fuel and allow automakers to achieve sufficient scale to make money on such vehicles. California certified VW and Mercedes diesel cars earlier this year, after a four-year ban. James N. Hall, of auto researcher 293 Analysts, says that bellwether state and the Northeast remain "hostile to diesel." But the risk to Ford is that the fuel takes off, and the carmaker finds itself playing catch-up—despite having a serious diesel contender in its arsenal.

Of course, the real "business reasons" are they have invested heavily in developing their own hybrid that this 65mpg diesel would threaten that investment. They are also calming, by their stance, that they could not make this same diesel here in the US.

So Americans have to do without a 65mpg car because of Ford's bottom line. BS!

ELECTION '08 - The Gambler, McBush

"McCain on banking and health" by Paul Krugman, New York Times

OK, a correspondent directs me to John McCain’s article, Better Health Care at Lower Cost for Every American, in the Sept./Oct. issue of Contingencies, the magazine of the American Academy of Actuaries. You might want to be seated before reading this.

Here’s what McCain has to say about the wonders of market-based health reform:

  • Opening up the health insurance market to more vigorous nationwide competition, as we have done over the last decade in banking, would provide more choices of innovative products less burdened by the worst excesses of state-based regulation.

So McCain, who now poses as the scourge of Wall Street, was praising financial deregulation like 10 seconds ago — and promising that if we marketize health care, it will perform as well as the financial industry!

Of course it's our health and money he's gambling with. He doesn't need ordinary healthcare, he has Congressional Healthcare AND he's rich enough to pay out-of-pocket if need be.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

ELECTION '08 - Good Ol' McBush

"ABC Panel Tears Into McCain: Not Presidential, Age Should Be An Issue" by Sam Stein, Huffington Post

For John McCain, the panel discussion on This Week with George Stephanopoulos could not have been more brutal.

Minutes after conservative columnist George Will declared that the Senator was decidedly un-presidential is his unexpected call for the firing of SEC Chairman Chris Cox, Sam Donaldson, the long-time ABC hand, said that McCain's erratic message on the economy again raised questions about his age.

"I suppose the McCain campaign's hope is that when there's a big crisis, people will go for age and experience," said Will.

"The question is, who in this crisis looked more presidential, calm and un-flustered? It wasn't John McCain who, as usual, substituting vehemence for coherence, said 'let's fire somebody.' And picked one of the most experienced and conservative people in the administration, Chris Cox, and for no apparent reason... It was un-presidential behavior by a presidential candidate."

Donaldson then jumped in:

"It was two days after the he said the fundamentals of the economy were strong. His talking points have gotten all mixed up. And I think the question of age is back on the table."

It should be noted that McCain's call for the firing of Cox was dismissed right off the bat, as the president does not have the authority to axe an SEC chairman.

The criticisms that Donaldson raised concerned the fact that McCain started the week by touting the fundamentals of the economy, before pivoting into fits of populist mantra and calling for ncreased regulation of the markets - position at odds with McCain's traditional economic philosophies.

"When I say age," he explained, "I don't know the difference between finding your talking points and not delivering the right ones, we have seen him do this frequently but this last week was the worst. Between two stops in Florida, as you say, he had to revise his thinking about what he wanted to say about the economy, wanted to feel the pain suddenly than say everything is great."

The whole, painful, episode crested with Will leveling an even harsher blow.

"John McCain showed his personality this week," said the writer and pundit, "and made some of us fearful."

ELECTION '08 - McCain "Advisor" As Bank Lobbyist

"The Big Question: 2+2=4?" by Josh Marshall, Talking Points Memo

The New York Times reports this evening that "foreign banks, which were initially excluded from the [Wall Street bailout] plan, lobbied successfully over the weekend to be able to sell the toxic American mortgage debt owned by their American units to the Treasury, getting the same treatment as United States banks."

The Times further reports that two of the biggest foreign banks in need of such relief are Barclays and UBS. In fact, my understanding is that UBS is more on the line here than any other foreign bank.

Let's add this up.

John McCain's top economics advisor, who is widely believed to be his choice for Treasury Secretary, should he win in November, is former Sen. Phil Gramm. (Indeed, just last night his spokesman refused to say Gramm wouldn't be McCain's choice for Treasury Secretary.)

Gramm is both vice chairman of UBS's US division and a lobbyist for UBS.

If UBS successfully lobbied over the weekend to get in on the bailout, what was Gramm's role in the lobbying?

Ain't this sweet. Our children go into hock for decades to bailout foreign banks. Typical we-are-for-sale GOP.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

MUSLIMS - One European View

"The Myth of 'Eurabia'" by Muhammad Abdul Bari, Project Syndicate Commentary


There is a powerful narrative today about how many young European Muslims are susceptible to terrorism, how Islam leads to radicalization, and how Muslims, because of their creed, choose to live in ghettos and therefore create swamps that breed terrorists. This narrative’s most extreme form is the idea of “Eurabia,” an incendiary term that purportedly describes a phenomenon by which Muslim hordes are now contaminating Europe’s very DNA.

From this narrative, fear of homegrown terrorism resonates the most, as does the impetus to deal with Muslims as a foreign foe. So, too, does the idea that accommodating religious differences is dangerous. A false dichotomy is created in which Muslims must choose between a Western and European identity or a supposedly separate Islamic identity.

But the relationship between European Muslims’ faith and identification with European nations seldom conforms to the “Eurabia” stereotype. A wide-ranging global Gallup study that culminated in the book Who Speaks for Islam: What a Billion Muslims Really Think , by John L. Esposito and Dalia Mogahed, includes detailed and sophisticated analysis of European Muslims’ attitudes. The results suggest that religious and national identities are complementary, not competing, concepts.

Muslims living in Paris, London, and Berlin are more religious than the general public, but they are just as likely as anyone else to identify with their nation and its democratic institutions, and just as likely to reject violence.

THE WORLD - An Other Look at China

"The lack of road rage in China" by Tim Johnson, McClatchy News


I’ve just got off an Air China flight from Nanjing to Beijing. It was a smooth flight. The only inconveniences were the usual fellow passengers occasionally clearing their throats noisily and spitting into the motion sickness bags.

Getting off the flight involved a scrum of elbows as passengers in the back of the flight tried to beat the ones in front out of the door.

All in all, a smooth experience _ and it got me to thinking.

Here is what you don’t see in China: You don’t see enraged passengers reaching across airline counters and shaking fingers at quivering airline employees. You don’t see people drinking way too much on flights and making scenes. In other words, you don’t see behavior that goes beyond boorish to the realms of freakish and even dangerous.

In China, I never look around and hope there’s an air marshal nearby.

I got an email from a reader in Massachusetts recently voicing surprise at the lack of road rage in China. It’s true. There’s plenty of muttering among drivers, and an occasional shout. But I never see drivers, pedestrians or cyclists really lose it. Just about everywhere else outside of Asia, I’ve seen that.

This excerpt has been pre-approved by the China Secret Police

ON THE LITE SIDE - A King Speaks

"Hey, Where Did All My Stuff Go?" by Pharaoh Tutankhamun, The Onion (America's Finest News Source)

Well this sucks. I leave the realm of the living to roam the underworld for a few thousand years, return to my burial place to enjoy all my worldly possessions, and all of a sudden, everything is gone. Everything. The alabaster chalice, the cobra amulet, that gold vulture thing I've had since I was a baby—all of it, gone.

I don't understand how this could have happened. It was all right here. Everything I ever owned. Right fucking here. I definitely remember there was a royal scepter leaning up against the outer sarcophagus, and there were a bunch of crowns and stuff, too. I know I had at least, like, 10 crowns. And—aw, fuck me, they took my pendant with the beetle and monkeys on it. I fucking loved that pendant. It's not even worth anything, but it was still like my favorite thing. Why in the world would someone do something like this?

This afterlife is going to suck.

And where did my statue of Anubis go? Do you know how hard it's going to be to find another three-foot-long wood carving of a recumbent jackal? It's going to be impossible, that's how hard it's going to be, because it was carved for me by my grandmother Queen Nefertiti, who last I checked died in 1330 B.C. I was going to use that statue. I was going to use all of this stuff.

Now what am I supposed to do? All my shit, the necklaces, that weird lion vase, the gold fucking daggers that I couldn't fucking wait to use, gone. I have nothing to wear. I have nothing to do. I guess I'll just lie here on the floor for the rest of eternity.

Oh, but I see my wooden chest is still here. Too bad everything that was inside of it is gone. But thank goodness I still have my precious wooden chest. What would I ever do without my painted wooden chest with nothing inside of it? I see my bronze trumpet and golden throne are missing, though. Shocking. That's okay, I'll just entertain myself for the rest of time with this empty wooden chest. Who needs jewels and treasures anyway? No, this is much better. Fucking shit bastards I hate this!

I guess I should describe some of the stuff that's missing, in case anyone has seen it. It's pretty hard to miss. Pretty much everything is covered in gold. There was this bracelet I remember, which had an eye painted on it. There were these five gold rings, which I guess looked like regular gold rings, basically. I'm also missing this cool-looking statue that was like a snake with wings, but its head was a human head. And a whole bunch of other shit, too. So basically anything gold with animals and stuff is probably mine. And again, that pendant I mentioned earlier. It had a beetle on it with two monkeys, and they were holding hands or something, and they had moons and suns over their heads, and the beetle if I remember correctly was blue. Fuck, I really want that pendant back.

If anyone reading this has seen any of the stuff described above, please return it to my tomb, located in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt, immediately. Please, I seriously need this stuff back. Thank you.

ECONOMY - At the Sickbed

"Thursday Big Blue Smurf Blogging: What They Said, special bonus Real Honest-to-God Expert Edition" from Jill

Today's bonus honoree: Nouriel Roubini (registration may be required and you should definitely do it), for noting how Republican "laissez-faire" economics have now turned this country into a corporatist/socialist state.

Money quote:

  • The paradox is that this this whole mess was created by a bunch of zealot fanatics who believed in the laissez faire ideology of free markets unbound by propers rules, regulation and supervision. As I wrote after the nationalization of Fannie and Freddie:

    This biggest bailout and nationalization in human history [Fannie and Freddie] comes from the most fanatically and ideologically zealot free-market laissez-faire administration in US history. These are the folks who for years spewed the rhetoric of free markets and cutting down government intervention in economic affairs. But they were so fanatically ideological about free markets that they did not realize that financial and other markets without proper rules, supervision and regulation are like a jungle where greed – untempered by fear of loss or of punishment – leads to credit bubbles and asset bubbles and manias and eventual bust and panics.


    Like scores of evangelists and hypocrites and moralists who spew and praise family values and pretend to be holier than thou and are then regularly caught cheating or cross dressing or found to be perverts these Bush hypocrites who spewed for years the glory of unfettered wild west laissez faire jungle capitalism (and never believed in any sensible and appropriate regulation and supervision of financial markets) allowed the biggest debt bubble ever to fester without any control, have caused the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression and are now forced to perform the biggest government intervention and nationalizations in the recent history of humanity, all for the benefit of the rich and the well connected. So Comrades Bush and Paulson and Bernanke will rightly pass to the history books as a troika of Bolsheviks who turned the USA into the USSRA. Fanatic zealots of any religion are always pests that cause havoc and destruction with their inflexible fanaticism; but they usually don’t run the biggest economy in the world. But these laissez faire voodoo-economics zealots in charge of the USA have now caused the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression and the nastiest economic crisis in decades. So let them be shamed in public for their hypocrisy and zealotry that has caused so much financial and economic damage.

Amen to that.

Wait a minute! According to McBush the fundamentals of or economy are sound!

"What crash? What, me worry?"

IRAN - Talk or Not Talk

"Governor Palin Goes to the United Nations" by James P. Rubin, Huffington Post 9/18/2008


On Monday, five former Secretaries of State had an open forum at George Washington University, which is scheduled to be televised this weekend by CNN. At the forum, the five former Secretaries -- Henry Kissinger, James Baker, Colin Powell, Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright -- agreed on one important change in U.S. policy. All said it was time to talk to Iran. Each of the five had their own preferences for how that dialogue would be conducted. But they all said the United States and Iran should engage in direct diplomacy in which all of the issues in dispute would be covered.

John McCain has a different view. He says there is nothing to discuss. Iran's government is abhorrent. The world should ratchet up economic sanctions until Tehran capitulates on its nuclear program by stopping the enrichment of uranium. Stopping Iran's enrichment program is the one thing everyone agrees is necessary -- Democrats, Republicans, Europeans, and even Russia and China. Nobody accepts the idea of an Iran with nuclear weapons. The issue is how to prevent that nightmare scenario from happening. McCain, meanwhile, seems to favor a policy of Bush plus.

For almost five years now, the Bush administration has been trying to get a permanent freeze on Iran's enrichment of uranium. But whether it has chosen unilateral demands, military threats, unilateral economic sanctions, or even multinational action at the United Nations, Washington has failed to stop advanced in Iran's nuclear program. All along, the administration has refused to do what most others countries have done: Offer a direct dialogue with Tehran with no pre-conditions.

John McCain not only agrees with the Bush administration, he has even accused the Bush White House of not acting aggressively enough. Indeed, he has been the clearest about the possible need for military force against Iran, saying in a way no other major politician has, that the only thing worse than using military force against Iran is an Iran with a nuclear weapons capability. This kind of argument for military force is consistent with what McCain has said on the question of using force against North Korea, Iraq, Syria, and others. In the case of all those countries, he has made arguments or proposals indicating that in McCain's world view the use of military force may not be a first resort but it is also not a last resort.

POLITICS - The GOP's Drill-Drill-Drill Mantra

"Three Cents A Gallon" by Anthony Congiano, Huffington Post


Last night the Democrats caved in on the "drill baby drill" mantra of the GOP and voted to allow the oil companies to drill off shore... sort of.

What the Democrats actually did was apply some very clever strategy back against the Pro-Oil Company Republicans, turned the tables on them, and got more for the United States than anyone could have imagined.

First, a question, did you ever notice that the Republicans never tell you how much savings 'We the People' can expect from drilling off shore? They are screaming, "America needs relief" ... well, we all agree on that one. They scream, "We can get billions of barrels of oil off our shore"... well, that is true but they leave out an extraordinarily important fact - We the People will only save 3 cents a gallon, that's right, just 3 cents.

Startling but it's true... every single estimate shows that American will save 3 cents a gallon in 10 years and up to 7 cents a gallon in 20 years. Do you remember when Glenn Beck mocked those that said, "You won't see any savings for 10 years"? He spit back his retort by screeching, "I want to drill now because I plan on being here in 10 years", but he never did tell you what the savings would be. Bush, McCain, Palin, Limbaugh, none of them ever tell you.

What Tony forgets, the GOP has to payback their Paymasters.

After all, Big-Oil doesn't make those big "donations" for nothing. If you believe otherwise, I've got a bridge in Alaska I'd like you to invest in.

ELECTION '08 - Another View of McBush/Palin

"Lipstick On Polar Bears" by Michael Winship, Bill Moyers Journal


Where would politicians be without the Titanic? As metaphors go, it’s far more majestic than putting lipstick on pigs or pit bulls.

Farmyard bacon and junkyard dogs may come and go but in the world of political rhetoric the Titanic sails on. The most famous shipwreck in modern history is the mother of all metaphors. Just last week, at a rally in Tampa, Florida, Hillary Clinton declared, “Anybody who believes that the Republicans, whoever they are, can fix the mess they created probably believes that the iceberg could have saved the Titanic.”

A political cartoon shows the President at the helm, yelling, “I’m king of the world!” as the mighty vessel plows into bergs labeled “Deficits,” “Unemployment” and “Foreign Policy.” Democratic strategist Paul Begala writes, “Selling the old Bush line in this economy would be like trying to sell tickets for the return trip on the Titanic after it sank.”

And, of course, there are infinite variations on the notion of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, or buying new ones, as metaphor for wasting time on a trivial task as disaster looms – an especially apt image when it comes to politics, Congress or virtually any government agency. Heckuva job, skipper.

When it’s functioning well, government is often referred to as a ship of state (See Longfellow: “Thou, too, sail on, O Ship of State! Sail on, O Union, strong and great!”), so when it veers perilously off course, comparing it to the well-known leviathan that slipped beneath the waves nearly one hundred years is a logical skip of the stone. Titanic is an iconic symbol of hubris, a manmade behemoth built in defiance and brought low by a random natural phenomenon. “God Himself could not sink this ship,” sneers the villain in the James Cameron movie and at that point, even if for some unlikely reason you weren’t aware of the outcome, you know for sure that this is not going to end well.

Humankind’s ability to help bring calamity down upon itself is what makes Titanic such a powerful image, especially as we face the growing immutability of what we’re doing to our planet. Despite being distracted by the current campaign’s side trips into sludge and triviality, with Karl Rove simultaneously telling Fox News the attacks have gone too far, but that the non-partisan, fact-check organizations that challenge falsehoods can’t be trusted(!), we would do well to consider that the icebergs are still out there, rhetorically, and, in the case of Sarah Palin, very much for real.

In her new position as princess regent of the Republican Party, the vice presidential candidate has had to do some fancy skating, finding herself – with a team of Republican coaches at her ear -- positioning herself on many issues for the very first time and altering some of her existing views to more closely mirror those of her running mate.

Climate change, for example. In her interview with ABC News’ Charles Gibson Palin said, “Man’s activities certainly can be contributing to the issue of global warming,” although last December she was quoted by the Alaska newspaper the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner saying, “I’m not an Al Gore, doom-and-gloom environmentalist blaming the changes in our climate on human activity.”

Her partial conversion along the road from St. Paul comes not a moment too soon, as a big chunk of the entire Arctic region appears to be melting, perhaps endangering the McCain/Palin campaign’s boast that Palin is governor of the largest state in the union.

I love the following, one paragraph, excerpt.

"Joe's Big Problem" by Peggy Drexler, Huffington Post

True, new polls say that America's fascination with Sarah Palin is starting to feel a bit like thinking you have found "the one" -- only to realize he bites his toenails. Her Mrs. Smith goes to Washington narrative isn't holding up all that well to a careful examination of the plot lines.

MIDDLE EAST - More From the Inside

We (Americans especially) need to try to understand how the "other side" sees things. So, as I have done in the past.....

"Arabia Felix" in search of Herself..." by Layla Anwar

Just yesterday, in the comment section, the name of Arabia Felix popped up. Arabia Felix was originally coined to designate the Yemen, and then became some sort of orientalist cliché for the whole of Arabia. Arabia the Happy One or L'Arabie Heureuse.

L'Arabie is far from being heureuse, thanks to the Orientalists and Colonialists of this world. L'Arabie is bleeding on all levels - moral, political, financial, ecological, social and spiritual...from the individual to the collectivity, from the child to the elderly... Denial comes in handy, a necessary defense mechanism. A wishful thought, an ostrich...

And there are no sheer coincidences in "Arabia." I have noticed that, on numerous occasions.

At times it scares me, as if the mere mention of a name, a word, will trigger an event, an incident, and confirm the deep suspicion, or simply shed light on more truths unraveling themselves before my very eyes.

This has forced me to become cautious in my writings, choosing subjects carefully, mentioning names and places with extreme reverence, for I know, as it has happened over and over, that sooner than later, something will happen along the same lines...

I have tested this almost ethereal connection. Take for instance Arabia Felix - Yemen, and a few hours later a bomb goes off at the American Embassy in Yemen, followed by a statement from Bush to the effect - This is a reminder that we are still at war with Extremists. Referring to Yemen, and by implication to Arabia as whole...

Yemen has been experiencing for quite some time some serious sectarian conflicts in some of its tribal areas and now this.

I have become superstitious, politically superstitious. I don't think I possess an uncanny ability to tap into the unknown, it is more like a very predictable agenda, scenario, plot, unfolding...I just sense it first, by connecting the dots.

At times I feel I, we, in " Arabia" are dealing with forces beyond politics, with dark forces beyond our grasp and beyond our control. It feels almost like some battle on some other level, an almost astral one.

The rational part in me likes to dismiss this kind of "hocus pocus", arming itself with theories and empirical facts. The other part of me, the "Arabian" part, believes that a decisive battle is taking place, on many fronts and on many levels, some of which I cannot full comprehend. It is indeed beyond politics and culture, beyond the "clash of civilizations"...

So yes, somewhere along the lines, I do understand the "Islamic" response, because deep in the collective psyche of "Arabia", Islam as a -- concept /thought or way of cognizance or life (not merely a personal system of religious beliefs) can appear as the only viable anchor, reference and defense.

It is not some archaic response as some like to believe. Sure, it is cultivated and played upon by politics and politicians with their own specific ideological agenda. However, it does resonate and strike many chords in the collective psyche and also provides a buffer, both temporal and spiritual from these external attacks, these incessant attacks on the "Arabian body."

And this "Body" has not been given respite. Assailed, constantly assailed, it has no time to reflect and no time to heal. It has no time and no space to find "rational" solutions, it reacts by falling back onto what it knows best or more aptly said -- on what it is most intimate with. Like some inner force that has been relegated to some private domain but has now come to the forefront, filling a vacuum and affirming itself.

And I may add that what it knows best or this resurgent force may not prove to be such a bad thing after all, maybe a necessary stepping stone - despite all of its downsides, a necessary and vital stepping stone to protect that "Arabian Body" or what is left of it. Unless of course, you are a partisan of new labour pangs and monstrous deliveries -- the new born Arabian Frankenstein.

Of course, we can discuss for days, the role of "Islam" particularly in its political dimension, and we may not reach any conclusion. But it seems to me, that "political Islam" (under its different shades and colors), as a counter force will have to be reckoned with, both on an individual and collective level. It may look like an impasse but it may also be a blessing. This is all open to debate.

And I invite Arabs in particular, to take a break from the bleeding "body", to use this blog as a starting point, a mini forum if you like, and start brainstorming, exchanging and hopefully conceptualizing, inventing, creating, a political model -- a culturally, historically specific, political model that may one day give birth to an Arabie Heureuse.

ELECTION '08 - Palin, As Seen From "Home"

"No one is above the truth, even Palin" by DAN FAGAN, Anchorage Daily News

You really can't experience the full effect of Monday's news conference featuring Palin spokeswoman Meghan Stapleton unless you hear it for yourself. Stapleton passionately attacked former Commissioner of Public Safety Walt Monegan. Her rhetoric was plain, desperate, and obvious. Her tone, pure shrill.

With intensity, urgency, and alarm in her voice, Stapleton described Monegan's behavior as commissioner as egregious insubordination, full of obstructionist conduct and a brazen refusal to follow instructions.

Did Walt Monegan, former Marine, and lifetime crime fighter deserve this? Of course not.

But history has proven, get in the way of Sarah Barracuda's political ambition, and you won't know what hit you.

If anyone should be on the hot seat, it's not Monegan, but Palin for her inconsistencies.

The governor has given so many different reasons for firing Monegan I've lost count. From the "we need new direction" and "new energy" to "he wasn't hiring enough cops," to "he wasn't doing enough about alcohol in the bush" to "he lobbied for budget increases" to the latest version, which is a doozy; Monegan displayed "egregious rogue behavior."

The governor also originally said that neither she, Todd nor anyone from her administration pressured Monegan regarding Trooper Wooten. Palin then was forced to admit there was serial contact once the Frank Bailey tape surfaced. But she insisted she was just learning of it. But e-mails have surfaced detailing Palin complaining to Monegan about Wooten.

The governor also originally said an investigation was needed and promised to cooperate. Then she instructed her employees not to talk to the investigator and has herself refused to be interviewed.

Palin can't constantly change her story and expect us to believe her each time she does.

Meanwhile, this Palin VP thing has Alaskans all stirred up? Much like Palin divided the Republican party, she has managed to divide the state over her national candidacy.

Clearly most Alaskans choose to ignore the facts of the Troopergate scandal. They want Palin to make it to the national stage.

Republicans scold me all the time, "You don't want Obama to win do you? Stop criticizing Palin!"

My question to my conservative friends is simple. Does the truth still matter?

Truth is at the very heart of the conservative movement. Isn't it true that smaller government, self empowerment, and personal responsibility are worth fighting for? Isn't it true that promoting a culture of life and defending marriage will keep us strong as a nation?

But some Republican leaders are abandoning truth and closing ranks to help Palin cover up her scandal by attacking the investigation.

Representative John Coghill has been especially disappointing on this.

And so has Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell. He called the investigation a "complete farce."? Parnell said, "I'm disappointed by the complete hijacking of what should be a fair and objective process,"

Parnell knows eight Republicans along with four Democrats voted to launch this independent investigation.

Contrast Sean "Captain Zero" Parnell with Republican Senator Charlie Huggins. Palin would have gotten away with shutting down the investigation if it were not for Huggins.

His swing vote allowed for subpoenas. Huggins put the quest for truth above his party. He said, "Let's just get the facts on the table, the sooner the better,"

But too many in my party are not interested in the facts. They want Palin to win -- at all cost.

I want McCain and Palin to win too. But with Palin's refusal to cooperate with the independent investigator and her transparent delay tactics, Americans deserve to know what Palin is trying to hide before we vote her a heartbeat away from the leader of the free world.

My fellow conservatives, remember how frustrating it was when Bill Clinton committed perjury and liberals looked the other way.

As conservatives, we are no better unless we demand full disclosure from our governor when it comes to Troopergate.

No politician is so popular and charismatic that they should be above accountability and telling the truth. Not even Sarah Palin.

ELECTION '08 - More McBush Obfuscation

"McCain operatives flock to Alaska, head off embarrassing disclosures about Palin" by Anne Sutton (AP), Newsday

GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin is effectively turning over questions about her record as Alaska's governor to John McCain's political campaign, part of an ambitious Republican strategy to limit any embarrassing disclosures and carefully shape her image for voters in the rest of the country.

Republican efforts include dispatching a former top U.S. terrorism prosecutor from New York, Ed O'Callaghan, to assist Palin's personal lawyer working to derail or delay a pending ethics investigation in Alaska. The probe, known as "Troopergate," is examining whether the governor abused her power by trying to remove her former brother-in-law as a state trooper.

O'Callaghan is just part of a cadre of high-powered operatives patrolling Alaska as reporters and Democrats scrutinize every detail of Palin's tenure in government, plus her family and friends. One strategy: Carefully coordinate any information that's released. The McCain campaign is demanding that it becomes the de facto source for answers about the operations of Alaska's government during the past 20 months.

Palin's normal press secretary, for example, now turns away inquiries from any reporter who isn't permanently based in Alaska, referring questions to the presidential campaign. Trouble is, some of McCain operatives only recently have arrived in Alaska and struggle to explain Palin's positions on arcane state issues.

When a reporter for The Associated Press asked the state's Department of Health and Social Services about lawsuits involving state health policies, he was directed to call Meg Stapleton, a former spokeswoman for Palin now working for McCain.

"In general the state is sending media inquiries this way because we're just inundated with hundreds and hundreds of phone calls," Stapleton said. "It provides for the most expeditious channel to get stuff out there."

O'Callaghan, who helped prosecute terrorism and national security cases for the Justice Department until a few weeks ago, was sent to Alaska to handle "legal issues that are affecting the political dynamic of the campaign," said Taylor Griffin, a former Treasury Department spokesman in the Bush administration. O'Callaghan is expected to leave after this week.

Translation: O'Callaghan is helping ratchet up the heat on the Troopergate investigation, a probe with which Palin once promised to cooperate. O'Callaghan was the one who threw down the gauntlet during a news conference this week: Palin herself was unlikely to talk to the Alaska Legislature's investigator.

McCain's campaign has sent at least one dozen researchers and lawyers to Alaska to pore over Palin's background, ready to respond to questions about her tenure as governor and mayor of Wasilla, a small town outside Anchorage. Griffin has been leading the team in Alaska, which includes operatives of the Republican National Committee.

Republicans are rebutting what they describe as smears against Palin. Last week, McCain's campaign formed a "truth squad," which includes current and former GOP politicians who agree to speak with reporters. Heading up the effort from Arlington, Va., are Mark Paoletta and O'Callaghan, both Republican lawyers, and Brian Jones, a former communications director for McCain.

Democrats, meanwhile, are relying on Palin's homegrown critics in Alaska. They call themselves "Alaska Mythbusters," a nod to the popular television show. The team is made up mostly of elected officials who have opposed or know Palin and who criticize her work, such as the mayor of tiny Ketchikan, Bob Weinstein. Ketchikan was involved in Alaska's infamous "Bridge to Nowhere," a construction project that Palin initially supported but now says she opposed as an example of wasteful spending.

This from an organization that fronts for a "person" (loosely used term) that wants to take the oath to uphold our Constitution but does not think the American voter has a right to know.

"MY CAREFULLY CHOSEN FRIENDS" by Ezra Klein 9/18/2008

Well, that's impressive. Yesterday's McCain/Palin townhall was screened, and people had to register with their local GOP offices and pick up the tickets at the party headquarters for the event. This is, of course, the opposite of McCain's normal town hall strategy, where "anyone may wait in line on the day of the event and come in without an advanced invitation." Of course, McCain isn't scared of his ability to answer hard or unexpected questions. With 24 years of political experience, he's confident in his knowledge of public policy. Instead, he's scared for Sara Palin.

What should we expect? He has to limit exposure of NOT-ready-for-prime-time Palin.

ON THE LITE SIDE - Humor Times September '08

(click pic for link)

Brought to you by: GOP Corp., Bush & McBush LLC

Joke of the Week

Through the pitch-black night, the captain sees a light dead ahead on a collision course with his ship. He sends a signal: “Change your course 10 degree east.”

The light signals back: “Change yours, 10 degrees west.”

Angry, the captain sends: “I’m a navy captain! Change your course, sir!”

“I’m a seaman, second class,” comes the reply. “Change your course, sir.”

Now the captain is furious. “I’m a battleship! I’m not changing course!”

There is one last reply. “I’m a lighthouse. Your call.”

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

PC GAMING - Tex Murphy is BACK!

Tex Murphy: Three Cards To Midnight

For we PC gamers one of the oldest and most enjoyable adventure game series is Tex Murphy, detective of the paranormal.

Well, finally there's a new game due out in November 2008!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

ELECTION '08 - Yet Another Reason, NOT McCain for President

"McCain got nasty defending his negative ads and still doesn't get the need to protect kids from sexual predators" 9/16/2008

Both Jed and the Huffington Post have video of John McCain's outburst on Morning Joe today. He's cranky. Sam Stein reported:

  • John McCain defended his campaign from charges that it has a problem with the truth and batted back suggestions that he is economically out-of-touch during appearances on all seven morning shows Tuesday.

  • It was an uphill task, perhaps best illuminated by the Senator's appearance on MSNBC's Morning Joe. McCain was forced to redefine what he meant when he declared the "fundamentals of our economy are strong" just yesterday. He offered curt responses to charges that one of his ads falsely accuses Barack Obama of supporting sex education for kindergartners. (Later in the show, in fact, McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds sent an email to host Mika Brzezinski defending the ad, which she subsequently read on air.)

McCain's performance didn't go over well. I got an email from one of our readers who watched this morning:

  • This morning I was watching MSNBC’s Morning Joe when John McCain was being interviewed. He was asked about his campaign's ad accusing Barack Obama supporting legislation that mandates teaching kindergartners about sex education. The ad, as everyone but McCain knows is wrong. Obama was supporting legislation to educate kids about sexual predators. McCain is so wrong on that issue and I don’t think he realizes just how far off base he is. I know firsthand.

  • I taught in an Archdiocese of Washington Catholic school for five years – not exactly the most progressive institution. But, during my tenure, the Archdiocese of Washington’s Catholic School’s office adopted the “Child Lures” program. This curriculum required classroom teachers, from Kindergarten through eighth grade, to teach children how to thwart off sexual advances from adults, the importance seeking help from trusted adults when such circumstances arise, and that it’s not the child’s fault – self-blame is a common symptom for children who are sexually abused. McCain is criticizing a program that even Catholic schools mandate.

  • I am simply appalled by Senator McCain’s actions – while he is campaigning that he wants to protect America from terrorists, he does not want to protect America’s children from the predators who sexually abuse children.

Catholic schools teach the same kind of program Obama was supporting, which McCain falsely attacked. And, McCain continues to lie about it. We're dealing with derangement.

ELECTION '08 - GOP and McBush Sanity

"The Blackberry was invented by a Canadian company -- not John McCain" 9/16/2008

NOTE FROM JOHN: There's a rather serious side to McCain's claim that he invented the Blackberry. The Blackberry has been the subject of some rather high-stakes law suits. If in fact McCain created the device, and not Research in Motion - or even if McCain were a co-inventor - this would raise some interesting legal issues with regards to who owns the rights to the device. I would suspect Research in Motion isn't interested in watering down its patent, which to my eye is exactly what John McCain just did today.)

Today, McCain's campaign claimed that McCain created the Blackberry. Blackberry was developed by Research in Motion, a Canadian company. If McCain's campaign knew how to use the Google, they'd have known this important fact.

As one of our readers wrote, "Not only did McCain invent the BlackBerry -- he outsourced it!"

And the GOP want this idiot to be our President? Then again, the GOP is not known to for its sanity.

ELECTION '08 - Then There's Sarah Palin

Another GOP distortion....

"Palin's Project List Totals $453 Million" by LAURA MECKLER & JOHN R. WILKE, Wall Street Journal

Last week, Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain said his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, hadn't sought earmarks or special-interest spending from Congress, presenting her as a fiscal conservative. But state records show Gov. Palin has asked U.S. taxpayers to fund $453 million in specific Alaska projects over the past two years.

These projects include more than $130 million in federal funds that would benefit Alaska's fishing industry and an additional $9 million to help Alaska oil companies. She also has sought $4.5 million to upgrade an airport on a Bering Sea island that has a year-round population of less than 100.

Sen. McCain has made the battle against earmarks and wasteful spending a centerpiece of his campaign. He has never sought earmarks for his state of Arizona and vows to veto pork-barrel spending bills that come to his desk as president, saying these projects should go through normal budget review. And he derides the argument that states often make: that they're funding important projects.

"If they're worthy projects they can be authorized and appropriated in a New York minute," he explained on his campaign bus earlier this year, before Gov. Palin joined the ticket. "If they're worthy projects I know they'd be funded."

During an appearance Friday on ABC's "The View," Sen. McCain said Gov. Palin shared his views, and hasn't sought congressional earmarks. "Not as governor she hasn't," he said.

In fact, in the current fiscal year, she is seeking $197 million for 31 projects, the records show. In the prior year, her first year in office, she sought $256 million for dozens more projects ranging from research on rockfish and harbor-seal genetics to rural sanitation and obesity prevention. By comparison, her predecessor, Gov. Frank Murkowski, sought more than $350 million in his last year in office.

The McCain campaign said Sunday that Gov. Palin's overall record is one of fiscal discipline. "Her record is cutting the number of earmark requests from the previous administration sizably," said McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds, and she has vetoed wasteful state spending.

As for Sen. McCain's televised comments on Friday, Mr. Bounds added, "If he gave viewers a mistaken impression, it certainly wasn't intentional."

In an interview with ABC News on Friday, Gov. Palin herself suggested she no longer seeks earmarks for her state. "The abuse of earmarks, it's un-American, it's undemocratic, and it's not going to be accepted in a McCain-Palin administration. Earmark abuse will stop."

When pressed about her record as governor, she said: "We have drastically, drastically reduced our earmark request since I came into office. This is what I've been telling Alaskans for these years that I've been in office, is no more."

Alaska's success with earmarks is due in part to the power of Sen. Ted Stevens, the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee. The state's earmark requests stand out in part because its state government is among the wealthiest in the U.S. Flush with oil and gas royalties, it doesn't impose income or sales taxes. In fact, money flows the other way: Every man, woman and child this year got a check for $3,200.

The McCain campaign has also come under fire for saying on the stump and in TV ads that Gov. Palin killed the controversial "Bridge to Nowhere," a $223 million earmark linking the mainland to a sparsely populated island. In fact, she supported the project initially and killed it after it was widely criticized and Congress allowed the state to use the funds for other projects.

On the campaign trail, Gov. Palin has repeatedly attacked Sen. Obama on earmarks. "Our opponent has requested nearly one billion dollars in earmarks in three years. That's about a million for every working day," she said at a rally in Albuquerque, N.M.

Sen. Barack Obama requested a total of $860 million in earmarks in his Senate years, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense. That doesn't include $78 million for projects that were national in scope and had been requested by many lawmakers. Sen. Obama halted all earmark requests in fiscal 2009.

It is difficult to compare Sen. Obama's earmark record with Gov. Palin's -- their states differ in size, for instance, and the two candidates play different roles in the process. But using the same calculation that the McCain campaign uses, the total amount of earmarked dollars divided by the number of working days while each held office (assuming a five-day workweek, every week, for both), Gov. Palin sought $980,000 per workday, compared with roughly $893,000 for Sen. Obama.

Mr. Bounds, the McCain campaign spokesman, called this an "apples and oranges comparison" because Sen. Obama sought more than Gov. Palin and because she cut earmark requests.

....and this is NOT just about Palin earmarks (Obama has his), this IS about the GOP claim that Palin did not seek earmarks. Another GOP distortion.

ELECTION '08 - Same-Oh, Same-Oh GOP

"What Change?" by Joseph Labriola, The Statesman

"Stand by because change is coming and real change is coming to Washington D.C. and we're going to shake things up."

It sounds like a quote directly from Senator Barack Obama, giving a rousing speech to an endless sea of enthusiastic supporters at a stadium filled rally doesn't it?

Surprisingly it's not. These words are actually those of Senator John McCain on the campaign trail from a video on Notice his newly adopted language. "Change?" "Shaking things up?" Haven't these words been the campaign slogans of Senator Obama ever since he started on this long and arduous campaign trail months ago?

From a non-partisan perspective, both Obama and McCain's campaigns have strengths and weaknesses. As far as John McCain is concerned, his political ideology is often disagreeable, but I have to give him credit where it's due. A month ago, I would have thought that he'd have thrown in the towel by now. Who can possibly compete with someone who draws the crowds and enthusiasm that Barack Obama does? I wrote last week about how John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin for his vice presidential running mate was a risky move, and honestly, I didn't think Americans would buy such a cheap ploy at creating the illusion of diversity and representation within the core of the Republican Party. But with McCain now leading Obama in various polls, it seems as if the seemingly brash decision to make Palin his running mate is bringing in unexpected levels of support. According to the Rasmussen daily tracking poll, as of Sunday, Sept. 14, McCain's support has reached 50 percent, compared to Obama's 47 percent, for a third straight day.

McCain is playing his cards better than Doyle Brunson could ever dream to and the American people are buying it faster than they can fill their cars with price-dropping oil. Palin has energized the GOP base. McCain continues to avoid outlining any real details of how he plans to solve most of the issues the nation is facing. He also has also stolen Obama's "change theme" and spun it 180 degrees on its head, warping the idea into his own sour concoction of "real change" via war and Washington experience. Well done, Mr. McCain.

So how should Obama respond? First, he has got to help people get over the national obsession with Sarah Palin. She is George Bush in a dress and he needs to make people realize this truth. Secondly, he has to keep reminding the public about how despite McCain's new "change" rhetoric, he did vote alongside president Bush 90 percent of the time. Thirdly, Obama must make this campaign about the issues no matter how much the McCain camp dotes over, "pig-in-lipstick controversies."

It's going to be an uphill battle for Obama. Despite the fact that he continues to outline his policies while McCain touts his admirable, if overplayed war record, Americans don't seem to be getting the fact that at the end of the day even an election like this should be about the issues, and not the candidates. Obama should, for his campaign's sake, call out McCain on his phony message and make this election about the issues. Meanwhile, McCain can continue doing what he's been doing since the convention, like trying to convince Americans he knows something about the economy, and trying to foster party identity. It's worked so far, winning more support from both independents and disgruntled Democrats, who is to say it won't last until November 4?

POLITICS - The GOP as Victims

"The GOP plays the victim card" by Gregory Rodriguez, LA Times

Conservatives claim to hate victimhood, but the Republican Party encourages its base to feel aggrieved at the hands of the 'elites.'

Do you remember that old joke about conservatives being liberals who'd been mugged by reality? Well, it was funny largely because it was true. Conservatives fancy themselves as hard-nosed realists. Unlike fluffy-headed liberals, who spend their days dreaming of a perfect world, conservatives are suspicious of utopian schemes. They know quite well that life is hard, and they disdain few things more than whiners and complainers. That's why more than a handful of conservative critics -- from Michael Medved to Rush Limbaugh -- have condemned what they call America's destructive culture of victimhood.

But if conservatives hate victimhood so much, why then does the Republican Party encourage its base to feel so aggrieved, especially at the hands of those snotty "elites"? Whether it's complaining about lipstick on a pig or bashing Washington insiders, the media and those oh-so-condescending Hollywood celebrities, Republicans have turned their own kind of victimhood into a political art form.

In fairness, Republicans didn't invent victim politics, nor do they have the franchise on it. But the form they engage in is particularly troublesome, not least because so many conservatives seem not to even realize they're up to their eyebrows in a game they claim to despise.

When Americans go on the attack against elites, historically we think of economic populism, the kind of class warfare pushed by the left wing. This is about money, inequality and an agenda to redistribute wealth. Liberal activists rail against robber barons and corporate fat cats. Conservative populism leverages social rather than economic cleavages. The agenda is mobilizing resentful masses that get a vicarious go at thumbing their noses at anyone they feel looks down on them. The enemies list is made up of professors, public intellectuals and entertainers, not captains of industry. And without any real redress in mind, conservative populism is all about emotion and personal grievance, not righting any particular social or economic wrong. You'd think the rise of conservative media, eight years of a conservative administration and a conservative-leaning Supreme Court would have undermined the GOP's victim strategy -- they are in power, which is one way to define "elite."

Indeed, in 2003, conservative writer Brian C. Anderson argued that with technology's help, the conservative media have broken what he called "the left's near monopoly over institutions of opinion and information." Cable TV, the Internet and the emergence of conservative book publishing, he wrote in the Manhattan Institute's City Journal, "have injected conservative ideas right into the heart of the debate. Though commentators have noted each of these changes separately, they haven't sufficiently grasped how, taken together, they add up to a revolution: No longer can the left keep conservative views out of the mainstream. ... Everything has changed."

But everything hasn't changed. Conservatives still behave like a battered minority. Romesh Ponnuru was a voice in the conservative wilderness Wednesday when he argued in a National Review blog that the GOP's response to Barack Obama's lipstick-on-a-pig comment is making Republicans look like "whiny grievance-mongers."

That's too bad, because it undermines the conservative critique of the politics of victimization, which is not a bad one. When they aren't practicing victimhood, conservatives argue that it weakens moral accountability and therefore personal responsibility. To identify yourself as a perpetual victim, they would say, tends to be a self-fulfilling prophecy that can undermine an individual's or a group's ability to improve their lot over time.

Of course, in this critique, those playing the victim card are always liberals or their fellow travelers. Just this June, Dennis Prager wrote that the "entire liberal-left [worldview] is predicated on portraying every group in America except white, male, heterosexual Christians as oppressed. Women are oppressed by men. Blacks and Hispanics are oppressed by whites. Gays are oppressed by straights. Non-Christians are oppressed by Christians."

He must have been surprised when, at the GOP convention, his own champions, Sarah Palin and Rudy Giuliani, flagrantly predicated their positions on the same kind of oppression, this time of Sam's Club, Main Street Republicans by those nasty "elites."

But who really cares about fairness and consistent thinking when politics are in play? Like the minority activist groups that conservatives abhor, the Republicans know very well that crying out against a foe is one sure way to rally the troops. And it works particularly well when your side is in political or ideological disarray. If you can't inspire your base with a coherent vision of the future, then you might as well unify it with the promise to stand up against the boogeyman.

In the end, conservatives are right, we have become a nation of victims, but surely it's getting more difficult for them to blame it all on the liberals.

WAAAAA.... Poor ol' GOP, but what else can we expect from a party with no substance what so ever.

As for the issue of being "a nation of victims," that may be a legitimate view. But the real issue is recognition that our nation has problems, and each side's remedy.

The difference between Conservatives and Liberals is what they recognize as problems.

My issue with GOP Conservatives is they never see big business as a problem, but act as if big business and "free enterprise" are the Holy Grail for fixing ALL problems.

Look at our nations recent history; our Healthcare, Enron, World Com, Sub-Prime Loans (the trigger for the mortgage-meltdown), the Wall Street crises in the last few days. These all came to be in the world of big business and free Enterprise. The basic problem is greed coupled with non-regulation, a world where profit is always put above people and their needs.