Tuesday, March 31, 2009

POLICIES - Sarcasm at its Finest

"The Republican Alternative Stimulus Plan" by David Michael Green, OpEdNews

I’m kinda pissed off at the lousy treatment America is giving to Republicans these days.

First of all, in a general sense, it just seems ungrateful and ungracious. I mean, Republicans worked hard this last decade to make America what it is today. We wouldn’t have the foreign relations we do, or the war situations, or the environmental conditions, or the fiscal situation or any of that stuff if the GOP hadn’t been on the job all these years.

And we wouldn’t have this economy, either. Can’t Americans show a little respect and gratitude where it is due?

The particular thing that sticks in my craw of late is the reckless allegation that Republicans are just the Party of No, and that they have no plans of their own to help revive the American economy. Nothing could be further from the truth. Or, at least, that’s what Rush told me to say. But I believe it.

In fact, the reality is that the GOP has a very sophisticated, very elaborate, 11-point plan for rescuing the country from the economic abyss. And, while the liberal media may be working overtime to make sure you never hear about it, I’ll be glad to set you straight

Here goes:

  1. TALK A LOT ABOUT FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY. We all know that marketed perceptions are more important than actual realities, and nowhere more so than in this domain. Forget about what anyone actually does. Just remember that the Democrats are always "tax-and-spend liberals", and the GOP is the "party of fiscal responsibility". Say it over and over. Pretty soon you’ll even believe it, and others will too.

  2. DEIFY RONALD REAGAN, IN ALL WAYS, ALL THE TIME. Never miss a chance to remind people of the wonderful powers and accomplishments of Reagan, from ending the Cold War to curing polio and walking on water. If anyone thinks those are some dubious claims, or mentions the one or two boo-boos of the Reagan years, give them that special Moonie stare of the true believer, dismiss them as part of the Looney Left, and walk away to where your consciousness remains safely protected from any challenging thoughts.

  3. PRACTICE VOODOO ECONOMICS. If you run for president, do what Reagan did. Promise that you’ll slash taxes, spend way more on the military, and balance the budget – all at the same time. If you get elected, do what Reagan did again. Triple the national debt. Because your campaign promises are physically impossible. Oops.

  4. PRACTICE VOODOO ECONOMICS AGAIN. (S)elect George W. Bush as president, and repeat Reagan’s amazing accomplishment, this time on steroids. Take the largest surplus in American history and turn it into the largest deficit. Take the federal government’s debt, accrued over more than two centuries, and double it from $5 trillion to $11 trillion in just eight years. Spend the money on vital necessities like massive tax cuts for the already fantastically wealthy, and incredibly expensive and disastrous wars against non-enemies.

  5. TALK EVEN MORE ABOUT FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY. Wait until a Democratic president comes to office, inheriting the worst American economy since 1932. All of a sudden, relocate your outrage – previously gone on walkabout – at the horrors of deficit spending. Only days after the Bush administration has ended, start talking incessantly about fiscal responsibility, just as if the last eight years had never happened.

  6. HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO PLAN FOR ECONOMIC RECOVERY. Whatsoever. Pledge to do precisely what Hoover did in 1932: Absolutely nothing! Let people crash and burn when they lose their jobs and healthcare and homes. Take away the few shreds of a social safety net they have. Don’t even spend stimulus funds for unemployment insurance in your state. Avoid the evils of middle class moral hazard by letting (ordinary) people starve.

  7. MAKE A LOT OF NOISE ABOUT EARMARKS. Who cares if they’re less than one percent of the budget?? They have lots of marketing value and can help disable the Democratic government while diverting attention from all the great fiscal and economic achievements of the past eight years.

  8. REINVENT HISTORY. Franklin Roosevelt didn’t solve the problem of the Great Depression, but his New Deal program of massive government spending did in fact achieve two key things. First, it nearly halved unemployment, cutting it from 25 percent to 15 percent. And, second, it literally kept alive millions of Americans who would have otherwise perished when no other safety net remained. All of this, of course, is a serious problem in 2009, given the desire of the public for the government to resolve the current problem. Solution? Lie like hell, Brother. Tell people that the New Deal had no recovery impact at all, and was a complete waste of money.

  9. REINVENT ECONOMICS. Talk about the stimulus package as though it were an ordinary spending bill, loaded with pork barrel waste. Never make the connection between spending, purely for its stimulative effect, and economic recovery. Argue that it was World War II that ended the Depression, not the New Deal, remaining completely oblivious to the fact that both were nothing short of massive government spending programs, exactly what the Democrats are doing with their stimulus legislation today.

  10. BLOCK ACTION TO REVIVE THE ECONOMY. Even though you haven’t got one of your own, carp incessantly about everything that is wrong – real or imagined – with the Democrats’ recovery plans. Even though the public has repudiated you in two successive elections and you are the minority in both the House and the Senate, use every tool possible to block action of any sort by the government elected by the people to solve the crisis. Watch as the middle class is eviscerated. No worries.

  11. COMMIT POLITICAL SUICIDE. Yep, that’s the ticket. Create an incredible crisis. Deny everything. Reinvent history. Block all solutions except those that would repeat the same disasters of the past. Ask the people to vote for you.

See what I mean?

Who says the Republicans don’t have a plan?

Monday, March 30, 2009


Dilbert 3/10/2009

Dilbert 3/15/2009

Dilbert 3/21/2009

Dilbert 3/26/2009


ZOO NEWS - Elephant Odyssey

"Putting the 'Odyssey' in Elephant Odyssey" by Rick Schwartz (Elephant Odyssey Ambassador), San Diego Zoo Blog

Imagine walking through Southern California 12,000 years ago. Believe it or not, the surrounding plants and landscape wouldn’t be much different than the natural surroundings you see today. However, the diversity of animals would rival that of modern-day African savannas. It might be difficult to visualize a family of Columbian mammoths traversing across the local terrain or a teratorn (relative of the modern-day condor) gliding along the air currents of the foothills with its 12-foot wingspan.

Elephant Odyssey is named so because it will literally be an odyssey through time as you enjoy the bioclimatic zone of Southern California, 12,000 year ago. During the Pleistocene epoch, North America was alive with a vast wealth of animals that is unmatched on this continent today. Herbivores like the large-headed llama, dwarf pronghorn, ground sloth, and Columbian mammoth, once roamed with many other grazers and browsers of the time. Saber-toothed cats and American lions were both carnivores that dominated their territories as they raised their young and hunted their prey. Daggett’s eagles and Merriam’s teratorns were giant birds that soared, scavenged, and hunted throughout the area.

Elephant Odyssey brings you back to this time of mammoths by exploring what has been discovered through fossil finds across Southern California. You will first experience an active mock tar pit and fossil dig that will be staffed with interpretive volunteers. This will bring forward the concept of what once lived here and will also establish their extinction and what may have happened to these animals.

As you move from the fossils toward the animals of today, you will get to come into contact with life-size replicas of some of the species that lived during the Pleistocene. Life-size statues of a mammoth family, a ground sloth, and many more will be situated to allow your natural line of sight to pick up the living counterpart in the distance, visually bridging time.

Wandering through Elephant Odyssey, you will experience today’s living counterparts with the animals of 12,000 years ago. The diversity of species will span the globe and also bring to the forefront what is happening to these animals in their current environments. Some may be in danger of going the way of their Pleistocene ancestors while others might have stable populations at this time. Still others, like the California condor, may even have been on the brink of extinction recently but are making a comeback.

Of course, there are other elements and aspects to Elephant Odyssey, but hopefully this will give you an idea of what to expect as we start our odyssey on May 23.

ENVIRONMENT - A Less Publicized Victory

"Obama's Environmental Victories" by Steve Graham, Associated Content

Barely halfway through his first 100 days in office, President Barack Obama worked with the Democrat-controlled Congress to redefine endangered species regulations, tighten mining rules and protect more than 2 million acres of public land.

The Obama environmental policy was a high priority, and he banked major early achievements in his first 100 days. To the media and the public, the Obama environmental policy has been justifiably overshadowed by economic news.

His massive stimulus bill will likely define his first 100 days, and possibly even his whole term. However, the Obama environmental policy is even entrenched in the economic stimulus package.

He has heavily pushed renewable energy. He argues solar, wind and other alternative energies will help clean the nation's air and water, among other benefits. But the Obama environmental policy is broader than weatherized federal buildings and subsidies for solar panels.

Encouraged by the Obama environmental policy, Congress passed a bill allowing President Obama to roll back the Bush Administration's 11th hour revisions of endangered species rules. He said he plans to roll back the Bush changes.

Federal agencies such as the Department of Transportation must once again consult independent federal environmental experts before starting projects that could affect endangered species habitats.

The Obama environmental policy also acknowledges the threat of global warming, and the rule changes will remove a Bush policy that kept federal agencies from considering the effects on global warming of such projects.

A less publicized piece of the Obama environmental policy is a major shift on coal mining practices that involve lopping off mountaintops in Appalachia. Though the practice has long been a concern of environmental groups, it is not as prominent as offshore drilling or Alaskan refuge issues. However, towns and waterways are severely damaged by the practice of mountaintop removal coal mining.

In February, a federal court ruling upheld the Bush administration policies that allowed widespread mountaintop removal coal mining by subjecting them to only lax review by the Army Corps. Instead, the Obama environmental policy requires more stringent review by the Environmental Protection Agency for new mountaintop removal coal mining permits.

A third piece of the Obama environmental policy is possibly the most important and far-reaching. In late March, the House of Representatives passed the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009. The ugly name signifies the protection of more than 2 million acres of beautiful wilderness in nine states. The largest pieces of land are along the Pacific Coast and in the Rocky Mountain West.

The bill will prevent oil and gas drilling on much of the land, and makes earlier wilderness protection measures more permanent.

The bill will likely also pass the Senate and surely be signed by the president. The wilderness protections are a key piece of the Obama environmental policy.

Bold emphasis mine

ECONOMY - Sorry, No More Salivating at the Public Trough

"THE INFLUENCE GAME: Obama to lobbyists: If you want to lobby on stimulus, put it in writing" by ALAN FRAM (AP), Newsday

Excerpt from 2-page article

President Barack Obama says lobbyists pushing for projects in the stimulus package can't utter a word about them to administration officials. But lobbyists are hardly staying mum about this latest affront and are looking for ways to cope with the extraordinary speaking ban.

The restrictions, which began taking effect unevenly this week, have angered lobbyists already upset with Obama's repeated shots at them for wielding too much influence. Critics contend it may be unconstitutional to bar certain people — registered lobbyists — from speaking to government officials.

"What disqualifies lobbyists from exercising their First Amendment rights?" said J. Keith Kennedy, a top lobbyist for the Washington firm Baker Donelson.

William Luneburg and Thomas Susman, co-authors of the American Bar Association's manual on lobbying laws, said they knew of no previous administrations curtailing lobbyists' conversations with government officials.

The new Obama rules bar lobbyists from conversations or meetings with federal officials about specific stimulus projects. They can talk generally about the measure's policies if projects are not discussed.

Lobbyists can submit written statements about stimulus projects that federal agencies must post on the Internet within three days.

"Basically they've said, 'Look, why don't you just put that in writing and we'll look at it,'" said Dave Wenhold, who heads the American League of Lobbyists, the profession's trade group. "That to me is clearly saying, 'Your input is not wanted here.'"

Wenhold has received hundreds of e-mails from irate lobbyists demanding action and is seeking a meeting with White House lawyers. One hurdle: The public's profoundly negative view of lobbyists gives them little clout in a showdown against a popular president.

To rally his fellow lobbyists, Wenhold e-mailed them Wednesday with a message that said: "This is your profession, and it is being targeted solely for political gain. What are you going to do to protect it?"

Since the prohibition applies to registered lobbyists, some firms are considering having some of their lobbyists rescind their registrations, which could let them pitch stimulus projects to government officials. That, however, would severely limit the time they could spend lobbying each year while undermining disclosure laws requiring registered lobbyists to publicly report their activities.

POLITICS - Quote of the Week

Posted on Newsgroup alt.politics.usa

Now 58, Ahmanson is recognized as one of the nation's leading evangelical Christians and one of conservatism's most reliable supporters, though he is hardly a Republican talking-point man.

He follows his own script and has parted company with social conservatives before.

He thinks those who argue for school prayer, for instance, are confusing the moral with the religious.

Morality is how we relate to one another, he says.

Religion is how we relate to God -- "and it's not the government's business."

Bold emphasis mine

Now, this is a man who understands what real religious freedom is about.

Now all he has to do it reconcile this statement with other Conservative Christian statements in having ANY government institution (including public schools) mandating prayer by law.

ECONOMY - Auto Bailout, NO Free-Lunch This Time

"U.S. Lays Down Terms for Auto Bailout" by SHERYL GAY STOLBERG and BILL VLASIC, New York Times

Excerpt from 2-page article

The White House on Sunday pushed out the chairman of General Motors and instructed Chrysler to form a partnership with the Italian automaker Fiat within 30 days as conditions for receiving another much-needed round of government aid.

The decision to ask G.M.’s chairman and chief executive, Rick Wagoner, to resign caught Detroit and Washington by surprise, and it underscored the Obama administration’s determination to keep a tight rein on the companies it is bailing out — a level of government involvement in business perhaps not seen since the Great Depression.

President Obama is scheduled to announce details of the auto package at the White House on Monday, but two senior officials, offering a preview on condition of anonymity, made clear that some form of bankruptcy — a quick, court-supervised restructuring, as they described it — could still be an option for one or both companies.

About time we demanded responsibility before the taxpayer's money is spent.

Friday, March 27, 2009

OPINION - Canada's Banks, From Newsgroup alt.politics.obama

Incidentally, one reason why Canada hasn't suffered as much from the fallout of the subprime mortgage bubble burst is that Canada's banking system is very tightly regulated, very trustworthy, and VERY conservative.

There are only 21 Canadian banks (although there are subsidiaries of foreign banks operating in Canada). There were 8,430 FDIC-insured commercial banks in the United States as of August 22, 2008. Many are essentially bankrupt, as their primary holdings are worthless mortgage notes (assets??).

Not one of Canada's 21 banks is in danger of insolvency.

Four of Canada's banks, Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), Toronto Dominion (TD), Scotia Bank and BMO are among North America's Top 10 banks and growing, largely by acquiring the assets of failing American banks.

Don't tell me fiscal responsibility, government regulation, and conservatism don't work ... Canada proved otherwise.

Bold emphasis mine

Of course, the Repugs are NOT interested if anyone else does things better. One of their philosophies (from evidence of their actions) is, "Why should we learn"?

POLITICS - Opinion From Newsgroup alt.politics.usa

In "Obama chides Republicans" by James R. Carroll, Courier-Journal

Gearing up for negotiations with Congress over his proposed budget, President Barack Obama chided Republican lawmakers yesterday for opposing his initiatives without offering alternatives.

"I do think that the Republican Party right now hasn't sort of figured out what it's for," Obama said in a White House interview with The Courier-Journal and reporters from five other newspapers.

"And so, as a proxy, they've just decided 'we're going to be against whatever the other side is for.' That's not what's needed in an economic crisis."

He added that "you could play that game maybe in the early '90s, when basically we were pretty prosperous. Right now, everybody's got to pull together."

Well, Repugs? We're waiting for your...ahem..."ideas".......(crickets)

In "Socialism, Fascism, Communism: Obama Attacked With Wave Of 'Isms'" by Jason Linkins, Huffington Post

Media Matters has documented the way various media figures and partisan critics, confronted by the White House's attempts to do the things they were voted into office to do, have resorted to breaking out all of the meanest and most spectacularly melodramatic "-isms"
they can muster.


And they even facilitate moronic combinations of "-isms" that don't make any sense, like "Communist McCarthyists."

I think that people could get a lot more creative, frankly.

Why not drop an old-school "Bolshevism" into the mix?

Or throw in a "racism?"

Behind closed doors, I know a lot of Obama's opponents accuse him of autotheism.

So why not go ROGUE with this stuff, and accuse Obama of siderism, or resistentialism!

Don't you think that Geithner's bailout plan shows a naive sense of meliorism?

Or am I just indulging in too much fatalism?

Anyway, as with most of the people gravely intoning about Obama in this video, the operative "-ism" is, as always, solipsism.


"What do you call a budget with no numbers, no ideas, no detail and no plan? The House Republican budget" by Joe Sudbay, America Blog

DailyKosTV has great video from the big announcement of the GOP budget today. The big news is that there really is no GOP budget. No numbers, no ideas, no details, no plan. They are the party of "NO" -- No future.

At Huffington Post, Ryan Grim detailed the exchange between reporters and GOP House Leader John Boehner:

Reporters -- mainstream, liberal and conservative -- greeted the Republican document with a collective scoff.

"Are you going to have any further details on this today?" the first asked.

"On what?" asked Boehner.

"There's no detail in here," noted the reporter.

Answered Boehner: "This is a blueprint for where we're going. Are you asking about some other document?"

A second reporter followed up: "What about some numbers? What about the out-year deficit? What about balancing the budget? How are you going to do it?"

"We'll have the alternative budget details next week," promised Boehner. Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) had wisely departed the room after offering his opening remarks. ("Today's Republican road-to-recovery is the latest in a series of GOP initiatives, solutions and plans," he had offered.)

A third reporter asked Boehner about the Republican goal for deficit reduction, noting President Obama aimed to cut it in half in five years. "What's your goal?"

"To do better," said Boehner.

"How? How much?"

"You'll see next week."

"Wait. Why not today? Because he asked you to present a budget."

"Now, hold on," said Boehner. "The president came to Capitol Hill and laid out his blueprint for his budget during the State of the Union. He didn't offer his details until days later."

"In general, where do you see cuts coming?" the Huffington Post asked.

"We'll wait and see next week," he said.

Another reporter reminded Boehner that he has "criticized Democrats for throwing together a stimulus quickly and nobody knew what they were voting on. Are you saying that your budget will be unveiled on the same day that the House is expected to vote on it?"

"No, I expect it'll be out next week," he said, though the House is expected to vote on the budget next week. "But understand that a budget really is a one-page document. It's just a bunch of numbers."

Though not today, of course.

Of course. The Republican leaders are a bunch of clowns. This is all a big political game for them. But, it's a game their losing, big time.

ECONOMY - Repelling "Barbarians At the Gate"

"U.S. To Tighten Screws on Wall Street" by REUTERS, New York Times

In an effort to quash Wall Street excesses that nearly collapsed the U.S. financial system, the Obama administration on Thursday will propose tough new restrictions on big financial firms, hedge funds and derivatives markets, officials said on Wednesday.

The U.S. Treasury will work with Congress to form a powerful systemic risk regulator with the authority to look deep into non-bank financial firms, such as hedge funds and private equity firms, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner will outline the plans in testimony before Congress on Thursday, and the proposals will form the basis for discussions on regulatory reform when President Barack Obama meets with leaders from the Group of 2O rich and developing nations on April 2.

The U.S. plan does not specify which agency should take on the role of systemic risk regulator to spot potential problems that could threaten the financial system. The decision on which regulator should play that role will be decided in consultation with lawmakers, the officials said.

The proposals, seeking to shine a spotlight on hedge funds and other private pools of capital, are likely to prove controversial. The administration wants to require advisers to hedge funds, private equity funds and venture capital funds to register with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission if their assets exceed a to-be-specified amount.

These advisers should be subject to investor and counterparty disclosure requirements and regulatory reporting that would include information necessary to assess their leverage and whether they pose a threat to financial stability.

The Obama administration also plans to regulate credit default swaps and over-the-counter derivatives for the first time, forcing all standardized OTC derivatives contracts to be cleared through central counterparties, officials said.

The tough regulatory stance, a dramatic shift from the Bush administration's hands-off approach, was brought about by the 18-month-long credit crisis and instances of financial fraud, which exposed gaps and weaknesses in the regulatory structure, the officials said.

Today's evidence says greed is NOT good:

In the last seven deals that I’ve been involved with, there were 2.5 million stockholders who have made a pretax profit of 12 billion dollars. Thank you. I am not a destroyer of companies. I am a liberator of them! The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind.

-Gordon Gekko, movie "Wall Street"

IMHO "Credit Default Swaps and Over-the-counter Derivatives" = Numbers Racket. Where is Sgt. Friday when we need him?

ENVIRONMENT - Wilderness Protection

"U.S. House passes massive wilderness bill" by Matt Canham, Salt Lake Tribune

The House signed off Wednesday on legislation that protects more than a quarter-million acres of Utah's redrock country, allows St. George more land to expand and tamps down an often-contentious battle between developers and environmentalists.

The Washington County lands bill was just one of about 170 conservation proposals rolled into a huge package that gained final congressional approval on a vote of 285 to 140. Utah's Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson voted for the measure and GOP Reps. Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz opposed it. The legislation now goes to President Barack Obama, who is expected to sign it.

The package designates more than 2 million acres in nine states as wilderness, the largest expansion of wilderness protection in 25 years. It included a number of Utah-specific proposals, but none with more impact than the Washington County bill crafted by Matheson and Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah.

"This is a great win for Utah," Matheson said. "It shows that if everyone sticks with it and comes to the table with good ideas you can reach consensus."

The bill, which is five years in the making, allows the Interior Department to sell between 5,000 and 9,000 acres of non-sensitive land for development around the St. George area, while designating 256,000 acres as wilderness, making it off limits to future oil exploration, roads or buildings.

This tenuous agreement has support among county leaders and environmentalists who were at odds for years over the specifics.

"It is very nice to see this come out of so much contention to a successful result," said Scott Groene, executive director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. "We are excited and pleased to see these lands get the protection they deserve."

Washington County Commissioner James Eardley hopes this vote means "we can quit arguing back and forth" over what land is protected and what land is not. The legislation will allow the county's fast growing cities more land to expand, increasing the tax base.

"It is not the same bill we started out with, but it is enough like it that we feel pretty good," Eardley said.

An early version would have protected only 90,000 acres, and would sell off 25,000 acres of federal land, allowing the county to use the proceeds for regular county business. That sparked loud protests from Utah's environmental community.

The final version protects three times the original amount and drops the acres that can be sold from 25,000 to about 6,000. Any money the government receives from the land sales must be spent on protecting other sensitive lands within Washington County.

Bennett, a Utah Republican, called this the most contentious issue he has dealt with in his U.S. Senate career. But those involved hope it can act as a starting point for future land use bills in Utah, either in individual counties or by region.

"The Washington County process is something we can continue to build upon," said Chaffetz.

Bishop and Chaffetz say they support the Utah-related provisions but were upset with the process Democrats used to get the bill through Congress and legislation involving other states.

"You have hidden all the bad stuff among the good things," Bishop said, who is the sponsor of two provisions in the package. He blasted the bill for what he sees as the government continuing to take away Western lands from potential commercial or energy development, limiting the tax base.

Chaffetz criticized portions that would protect lands that could hold valuable energy reserves, particularly in Wyoming.

Only 38 Republicans voted for the bill, which made it to Wednesday's final vote because of some congressional gamesmanship by Democrats, who wanted to avoid an avalanche of Republican amendments.

In its first attempt, the House came two votes shy of passing the bill without amendments, such as Bishop's proposal to allow guns in National Parks. Democrats in the Senate then gutted an unrelated House bill, loading it up with the land and water proposals, before sending it back to the House. This move allowed Democrats to pass the bill on a simple up or down vote.

"It is an amazing procedural game to stifle discussion," said Bishop, the ranking Republican on the parks and public lands subcommittee.

Matheson said the package wasn't passed in "a perfect process" but in the end it received bipartisan votes in both Houses.

"I think that speaks for itself," he said.

This is a step away from the policies of "dig, drill, road-over, and build anywhere" for profit. A step away from the idea that nothing is sacred but greed.

POLITICS - Another Step In Protecting Our Constitutional Rights

"Human rights advocate named State Department's top lawyer" by Paul Richter, L.A. Times

Harold Hongju Koh, an outspoken advocate of human rights and international law, has been chosen to be the top lawyer at the State Department.

Koh, dean at the Yale Law School, has been one of the most vocal critics of the Bush administration's approach to the detention and trial of terrorism suspects, calling a 2002 memo justifying harsh interrogation methods a "stain on our national reputation."

If confirmed as State Department legal advisor, he would have a key role in dismantling the Bush administration's approach to that issue and others.

The appointment continues the Obama administration's pattern of filling many legal posts with political liberals, such as Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr., while awarding many national security positions to moderates, including Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The appointment of Koh was praised by rights activists, an important Democratic constituency that has not been pleased by administration steps so far.

"He has been a strong voice for both human rights and restoring the rule of law," said Christopher Anders, senior legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington.

A Korean American and native of Boston, Koh has been the subject of speculation in legal circles that the Obama administration might tap him as the first Asian American Supreme Court justice.

Some conservative critics, worried that Koh might become an Obama pick for the Supreme Court, have taken issue with his support for international law, which they view as threatening to American sovereignty.

"He aims to use international bodies and treaties to deprive American citizens of their powers of representative government, and subject American government to rule by a transnational elite of leftist lawyers," said Ed Whelan, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington.

John Radsan, who was assistant CIA general counsel from 2002 to 2004, said Koh approached issues related to the handling of accused terrorists as "a pure civil libertarian."

He said Koh is at the other end of the ideological spectrum from John C. Yoo, a visiting professor at Chapman University School of Law in Orange, who became well known during the Bush administration for writings that justified harsh physical treatment of terrorism suspects.

"He's the anti-Yoo," said Radsan, who is now a professor at William Mitchell College of Law.

Koh has been among those who have argued that terrorism detainees should be handled through the federal court system. Critics of this approach contend it would give accused terrorists procedural advantages and a soapbox to preach their views. It also could jeopardize intelligence information and cooperation from other countries, critics believe.

Koh has advocated use of the Army Field Manual's guidelines for treatment of detainees and has opposed "enhanced" interrogation techniques. Obama has ordered the CIA to follow the manual, which prohibits controversial detention and interrogation methods.

Koh has opposed the practice of "rendition" of terrorism suspects to foreign governments, and has condemned the Bush administration's view that it needed wide latitude to prosecute terrorists. Some legal analysts say that Koh's rejection of the war on terrorism raises questions about whether he believes strikes by U.S. Predator drone aircraft into Pakistan are legal.

Koh was assistant secretary of State for democracy, human rights and labor from 1998 to 2001, and worked at the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel from 1983 to 1985. He went to Harvard Law School and served as a law clerk for the late Justice Harry A. Blackmun.

One more step away from Bush fascism.

PENTAGON - Robocop 2009

"Pentagon exploring robot killers that can fire on their own" by Robert S. Boyd, McClatchy News

The unmanned bombers that frequently cause unintended civilian casualties in Pakistan are a step toward an even more lethal generation of robotic hunters-killers that operate with limited, if any, human control.

The Defense Department is financing studies of autonomous, or self-governing, armed robots that could find and destroy targets on their own. On-board computer programs, not flesh-and-blood people, would decide whether to fire their weapons.

"The trend is clear: Warfare will continue and autonomous robots will ultimately be deployed in its conduct," Ronald Arkin, a robotics expert at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, wrote in a study commissioned by the Army.

"The pressure of an increasing battlefield tempo is forcing autonomy further and further toward the point of robots making that final, lethal decision," he predicted. "The time available to make the decision to shoot or not to shoot is becoming too short for remote humans to make intelligent informed decisions."

Autonomous armed robotic systems probably will be operating by 2020, according to John Pike, an expert on defense and intelligence matters and the director of the security Web site GlobalSecurity.org in Washington.

This prospect alarms experts, who fear that machines will be unable to distinguish between legitimate targets and civilians in a war zone.

"We are sleepwalking into a brave new world where robots decide who, where and when to kill," said Noel Sharkey, an expert on robotics and artificial intelligence at the University of Sheffield, England.

Human operators thousands of miles away in Nevada, using satellite communications, control the current generation of missile-firing robotic aircraft, known as Predators and Reapers. Armed ground robots, such as the Army's Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System, also require a human decision-maker before they shoot.

As of now, about 5,000 lethal and nonlethal robots are deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Besides targeting Taliban and al Qaida leaders, they perform surveillance, disarm roadside bombs, ferry supplies and carry out other military tasks. So far, none of these machines is autonomous; all are under human control.

The Pentagon's plans for its Future Combat System envision increasing levels of independence for its robots.

"Fully autonomous engagement without human intervention should also be considered, under user-defined conditions," said a 2007 Army request for proposals to design future robots.

For example, the Pentagon says that air-to-air combat may happen too fast to allow a remote controller to fire an unmanned aircraft's weapons.

"There is really no way that a system that is remotely controlled can effectively operate in an offensive or defensive air-combat environment," Dyke Weatherington, the deputy director of the Pentagon's unmanned aerial systems task force, told a news conference on Dec. 18, 2007. "The requirement for that is a fully autonomous system," he said. "That will take many years to get to."

Many Navy warships carry the autonomous, rapid-fire Phalanx system, which is designed to shoot down enemy missiles or aircraft that have penetrated outer defenses without waiting for a human decision-maker.

At Georgia Tech, Arkin is finishing a three-year Army contract to find ways to ensure that robots are used in appropriate ways. His idea is an "ethical governor" computer system that would require robots to obey the internationally recognized laws of war and the U.S. military's rules of engagement.

"Robots must be constrained to adhere to the same laws as humans or they should not be permitted on the battlefield," Arkin wrote.

For example, a robot's computer "brain" would block it from aiming a missile at a hospital, church, cemetery or cultural landmark, even if enemy forces were clustered nearby. The presence of women or children also would spark a robotic no-no.

Arkin contends that a properly designed robot could behave with greater restraint than human soldiers in the heat of battle and cause fewer casualties.

"Robots can be built that do not exhibit fear, anger, frustration or revenge, and that ultimately behave in a more humane manner than even human beings in these harsh circumstances," he wrote.

Sharkey, the British critic of autonomous armed robots, said that Arkin's ethical governor was "a good idea in principle. Unfortunately, it's doomed to failure at present because no robots or AI (artificial intelligence) systems could discriminate between a combatant and an innocent. That sensing ability just does not exist."

Selmer Bringsjord, an artificial intelligence expert at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., is worried, too.

"I'm concerned. The stakes are very high," Bringsjord said. "If we give robots the power to do nasty things, we have to use logic to teach them not to do unethical things. If we can't figure this out, we shouldn't build any of these robots."

Remember the SiFi movie Robocop? Another example of fiction preceding reality. Lets hope this does NOT follow the deleterious results portrayed in the movie.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

POLITICS - Obama On AIG Rage, Recession, Challenges

President Barack Obama 3/22/2009
60 Minutes

My chosen excerpt: (from transcript)

(CBS) "One question about Dick Cheney and Guantanamo. I'm sure you wanna answer this," Kroft said. "A week ago Vice President Cheney said essentially that your willingness to shut down Guantanamo and to change the way prisoners are treated and interrogated was making America weaker and more vulnerable to another attack. And that the interrogation techniques that were used at Guantanamo were essential in preventing another attack against the United States."

"I fundamentally disagree with Dick Cheney. Not surprisingly. You know, I think that Vice President Cheney has been at the head of a movement whose notion is somehow that we can't reconcile our core values, our Constitution, our belief that we don't torture, with our national security interests. I think he's drawing the wrong lesson from history," Obama said.

"The facts don't bear him out. I think he is, that attitude, that philosophy has done incredible damage to our image and position in the world. I mean, the fact of the matter is after all these years how many convictions actually came out of Guantanamo? How many terrorists have actually been brought to justice under the philosophy that is being promoted by Vice President Cheney? It hasn't made us safer. What it has been is a great advertisement for anti-American sentiment. Which means that there is constant effective recruitment of Arab fighters and Muslim fighters against U.S. interests all around the world," he added.

"Some of it being organized by a few people who were released from Guantanamo," Kroft pointed out.

"Well, there is no doubt that we have not done a particularly effective job in sorting through who are truly dangerous individuals that we've got to make sure are not a threat to us, who are folks that we just swept up. The whole premise of Guantanamo promoted by Vice President Cheney was that somehow the American system of justice was not up to the task of dealing with these terrorists. I fundamentally disagree with that. Now, do these folks deserve Miranda rights? Do they deserve to be treated like a shoplifter down the block? Of course not," Obama said.

Asked what should be done with these people, Obama said, "Well, I think we're gonna have to figure out a mechanism to make sure that they not released and do us harm. But do so in a way that is consistent with both our traditions, sense of due process, international law. But this is the legacy that's been left behind. And, you know, I'm surprised that the vice president is eager to defend a legacy that was unsustainable. Let's assume that we didn't change these practices. How long are we gonna go? Are we gonna just keep on going until you know, the entire Muslim world and Arab world despises us? Do we think that's really gonna make us safer? I don't know a lot of thoughtful thinkers, liberal or conservative, who think that that was the right approach."

POLITICS - Opinion, More on GOP

"For All the People That Were Sleeping During the Last 8yrs" post from alt.politics.obama 3/23/2009

The Republicans ran the House and Senate for roughly 12 consecutive years. When the Democrats won in 2006 they did not have the 60 votes needed to do the people's business because the Republicans fought tooth and nail to protect their special interests and greedy money mongers.

The Republicans also controlled the White House for 8 of the last 12 years. Remember all the veto's that Bush did from 2006 - 2008 to stop the needs of the middle-class and poor in favor of greed and war profiteering?

* Bush never added war spending into the budget either. Can you say "Cooking the Books"?

So, any tiny, minuscule fraction of damage that has happened to the economy since Jan 12th 2009 does not even compare to the massive damage over the last 12 years of Republican rule.

You really look stupid for blaming Obama for all of Bush's fuckups too!

But hey, you are Republicans so that is standard fare for your party.

AMEN! GOP = Dumb & Dumber

ON THE LITE SIDE - Sorcerer's Stimulus

By Matson
Humor Times

Monday, March 23, 2009

POLITICS - Open Letter to Karl Rove

"Karl Rove talks the walk" (open letter) by pstern, Capitol Hill Blue

RE: Obama Gives the GOP an Opening, by Karl Rove

Mr. Rove,

Don't you think you are "jumping the gun" re: Obama since the man has been President for a mere 2 months?

Considering that the GOP wants Obama to fail as President and from day 1 has erected a stone wall regarding communications with the President and his administration, isn't it a bit unrealistic to proclaim that Obama has gone against his campaign pledge to bridge the partisan gap and work with Republicans? It does take 2 to tango, does it not?

In reality, should Republicans and Democrats work and play well together for the next 4 years isn't that a death certificate for the GOP's chances to seize power in the 2012 Presidential Election? Isn't that really what you and the party are hoping to avoid? Could it be that this is the reason for all the tension and animosity on Capitol Hill? It takes more than one man in power to generate open communication across battle lines.

As for spending more tax dollars and increasing the national debt, is it not the very reason for doing so a direct cause of the Bush administration's lack of good management skills, special interest pandering and lust for profiteering? After all, did not the Bush administration give corporate America everything it wanted, including significant deregulation, easy credit and unprecedented revenues? And still our economy failed?

Finally, we all know about the Bush years. They are documented historically. In a strong economy that administration set the pace for a trillion dollar deficit, a breeding ground for corruptive influences and the significant means for a crumbling decay of our economy. The final days of Bush were focused on bailing out Wall Street and financial markets due to 8 years of robbing the poor to give to the rich.

Blaming Obama for our current ills is NOT going to change the last 8 years of American history.

Your article is an obvious attempt to undermine the current administration's efforts to slow the economic downtrend and bring back financial markets, uplift the economy and spur on employment. In addition, your not so veiled intent to persuade Americans to reject the new President's vision, promises and actions highlights the attempt by the GOP to maneuver itself into a hill-top position to seize-back control in 2012.

Nice try, but I believe most Americans won't buy it.

Respectfully yours,


POLITICS - OK, What's Your Word to Describe THIS?

"A.I.G. Sues U.S. for Return of $306 Million in Tax Payments" by LYNNLEY BROWNING, New York Times

While the American International Group comes under fire from Congress over executive bonuses, it is quietly fighting the federal government for the return of $306 million in tax payments, some related to deals that were conducted through offshore tax havens.

A.I.G. sued the government last month in a bid to force it to return the payments, which stemmed in large part from its use of aggressive tax deals, some involving entities controlled by the company’s financial products unit in the Cayman Islands, Ireland, the Dutch Antilles and other offshore havens.

A.I.G. is effectively suing its majority owner, the government, which has an 80 percent stake and has poured nearly $200 billion into the insurer in a bid to avert its collapse and avoid troubling the global financial markets. The company is in effect asking for even more money, in the form of tax refunds. The suit also suggests that A.I.G. is spending taxpayer money to pursue its case, something it is legally entitled to do. Its initial claim was denied by the Internal Revenue Service last year.

The lawsuit, filed on Feb. 27 in Federal District Court in Manhattan, details, among other things, certain tax-related dealings of the financial products unit, the once high-flying division that has been singled out for its role in A.I.G.’s financial crisis last fall. Other deals involved A.I.G. offshore entities whose function centers on executive compensation and include C. V. Starr & Company, a closely held concern controlled by Maurice R. Greenberg, A.I.G.’s former chairman, and the Starr International Company, a privately held enterprise incorporated in Panama, and commonly known as SICO.

The lawsuit contends in part that the federal government owes A.I.G. nearly $62 million in foreign tax credits related to eight foreign entities, with names like Lumagrove, Laperouse and Foppingadreef, that were set up or controlled by financial products, often through a unit known as Pinestead Holdings.

United States tax law allows American companies to claim a credit for any taxes paid to a foreign government. But the I.R.S. denied A.I.G.’s refund claims in 2008, saying that it had improperly calculated the credits. The I.R.S. has identified so-called foreign tax-credit generators as an area of abuse that it is increasingly monitoring.

The remainder of A.I.G.’s claim, for $244 million, concerns net operating loss carry-backs, capital loss carry-backs, a general refund claim and claims for refunds of other tax-related payments that A.I.G. says it made to the I.R.S. but are now owed back. The claim also covers $119 million in penalties and interest that A.I.G. says it is due back from the government.

In part, A.I.G. says it overpaid its federal income taxes after a 2004 accounting scandal that caused it to restate its financial records. A.I.G. says in part that it is entitled to a refund of $33 million that SICO paid in 1997 as compensation to employees, which it now says should be characterized as a deductible expense.

A.I.G.’s lawyers in the case, at Sutherland Asbill & Brennan, referred calls to the company. Asked about the lawsuit, Mark Herr, an A.I.G. spokesman, said Thursday that “A.I.G. is taking this action to ensure that it is not required to pay more than its fair share of taxes.”

Well? How would you describe this behavior?

Me; SLEAZE, BANDITRY, GREED BIG-TIME, BS! And these are the type of people the GOP loves. General public; just bend over, pants down, and grab your ankles.

Friday, March 20, 2009

POLITICS - Millionaires, the GOP's Godfathers

"IRS, USDA crack down on millionaires who receive farm subsidies" by MARY CLARE JALONICK (AP), Newsday

The Internal Revenue Service and the Agriculture Department are cracking down on millionaires who receive farm subsidies by mistake.

A report released last year shows that a sports team owner, a financial firm executive and 2,700 other millionaires were receiving farm payments even though they probably were ineligible. The Agriculture Department said they did not have access to IRS information that could have disqualified them.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is expected to announce Thursday that his department will now work with the IRS to verify the incomes of subsidy recipients.

The new rules are part of an administration effort to improve coordination between agencies and trim waste from departmental budgets.

POLITICS - NEW Season of "GOP Clowns"

"GOP reality show" by Paul Sibek, (Santa Clarita Valley) Signal

The best reality show of the new season is the sorry state of the GOP. Watching them cannibalize themselves almost seems scripted.

Every night some GOP-er is apologizing to Rush Limbaugh. One day it's Michael Steele, the new hip-hop RNC chair, then Rep. Phil Gingrey and Rep. Mark Sanford. Rush has become the leader of the party and it's hilarious watching the cow-towing.

This is a man who is aggressive and bombastic, cutting and sarcastic, who dismisses the concerned citizens in network news focus groups as "losers." With his private plane and his cigars, his history of drug dependency and his personal bulk, not to mention his tangled marital history, Rush is a walking stereotype of self-indulgence, piggishness and egotism.

Those images of crowds of CPAC-ers cheering Rush's every rancorous word is just amazing, entertaining and incredible. How low can they go?

On the other hand you have Joe Scarborough and other more centrist Republicans flipping out over the direction of their party. It is slipping away, becoming a marginalized regional party, clinging to old failed ideas with an adoring base of non-critical thinkers - ditto heads. McCain must be dampening his Depends. Eisenhower must be turning in his grave and Rockefeller, well, I can't imagine, but a few punch lines are below;

Governor Jindal: "I think Rush is a great leader for conservatives."

Chairman Michael Steele: "I have enormous respect for Rush Limbaugh."

Congressman Mike Pence: "...Rush Limbaugh - who I admire, and like millions of Americans, I cherish his voice in the public debate."

And so the Republicans expect to be taken seriously now?

ECONOMY - Budget Priorities

"Budget sense" by John Del Cecato, The Hill

Rich people are dupes.

That’s the view of some opinion-makers inside the Washington Beltway. Michael Barone, a conservative pundit who fears President Obama’s budget priorities, sounded the same alarm bell about the Clinton economic program in 1993. Instead, 23 million jobs were created. Unemployment dropped to a 30-year low. Americans enjoyed the largest economic expansion in our history.

In a recent column, Barone explained:

“Why was I wrong? Because, I came to think, the Clintonites managed to hit a sweet spot with the 39.6 percent [income tax] rate [on the wealthiest.] It was a number that started with a three. To high earners, not bothering to calculate exact returns to the last decimal point but just concentrating on the big picture, it seemed that the government was taking just about one third — hey, maybe a bit more — of their incomes. They would get to keep the other two thirds, pretty much. So they proceeded to try to make intelligent investments ... ”

Barone thinks like the producers of those infomercials on late-night television, the ones that lure sleep-deprived viewers into opening their wallets by convincing them the ShamWow or the Snuggie — for which they’d never shell out 20 bucks — is a real steal at just $19.95.

For right-wing columnist Charles Krauthammer, it’s not that wealthy folks are too gullible; rather, they’re too educated. In bashing President Obama’s audacity to link higher education to a stronger economy, Krauthammer suggested that all that book-learnin’ might be the cause of the problem, rather than the cure.

“Indeed, one could perversely make the case that, if anything, the proliferation of overeducated, Gucci-wearing, smart-ass MBAs inventing ever more sophisticated and opaque mathematical models and debt instruments helped get us into this credit catastrophe.”

Outside the Beltway, most Americans take a different view: Obama-nomics is really common sense.

Cutting taxes for 95 percent of working families, while closing corporate tax loopholes. Raising billions for the budget by asking millionaires to pay a little more. Ending budget gimmicks created to hide the true size of the deficit, while going through the federal budget line by line to determine where taxpayer dollars must be spent — and where they should not. A bold plan to reverse the credit crunch, help small businesses and put people back to work now, while making the investments in education, healthcare and energy independence that are crucial to America’s long-term economic resurgence.

It’s a budget prepared by a president who talks to Americans like, well, adults.

To date, congressional Republicans haven’t offered an alternative vision for jumpstarting the economy. Instead, their hearts bleed for the welfare of the wealthy, playing the same old political games. Voters haven’t been fooled.

The latest Newsweek survey found 58 percent of Americans — including 42 percent of Republicans — believe the GOP has no plan of its own to get the country moving again. The most recent Quinnipiac poll showed Americans trust Obama more than congressional Republicans to do a good job handling the economy by a whopping 30 points. The president even led among those earning more than $250,000 a year.

It could be that the wealthy just haven’t gotten the memo from the Washington pundits, who so assiduously go to bat for their “best interests.”

Or maybe rich folks, like most Americans, aren’t so unwise after all.

John Del Cecato is a partner at AKPD Message and Media, the political consulting firm founded by David Axelrod in 1985. He served as media adviser and admaker for Obama for America and Obama-Biden 2008.

POLITICS - From My Believe-It-Or-Not File

"Obama Drops Plan to Bill Veterans' Private Insurers" by Philip Rucker, Washington Post

Believe in or not: The proposal was even considered?!!!!

President Obama yesterday abandoned a proposal to bill veterans' private insurance companies for the treatment at VA hospitals of combat-related injuries amid an outcry over the measure from veterans' service organizations and members of Congress.

The proposal would have authorized the Department of Veterans Affairs to charge private companies for treating injuries and other medical conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, that are related to military service. The measure was intended to save VA about $530 million a year, but the administration's pursuit of third-party billing sparked resistance from leaders of veterans groups, who met this week with Obama.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said in a statement yesterday that the president has "instructed that its consideration be dropped."

"In considering the third-party billing issue, the administration was seeking to maximize the resources available for veterans," Gibbs said. "However, the president listened to concerns raised by the [organization leaders] that this might, under certain circumstances, affect veterans and their families' ability to access health care."

Veterans groups said the policy would jeopardize the insurance benefits of veterans and their families and would be an abrogation of the government's responsibility to care for those wounded in war.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), a senior member of the Veterans' Affairs and Budget committees, issued a statement saying that the president "did the right thing in dropping this proposal."

Paul Reickhoff of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said in a statement that the administration is "upholding our sacred trust with America's veterans."

Good decision, abandoning the proposal .

POLITICS - Opinion, Big Government

"Under President Obama, Big Government is Back" by Kenneth T. Walsh, U.S. News & World Report

Excerpt, Page 1 of 2

Three decades after Ronald Reagan declared that federal activism wasn't the answer to America's problems, big government is back. The evidence is everywhere. There's President Obama's $787 billion program to stimulate the economy, including massive investments in roads, bridges, and other infrastructure projects. There's his $275 billion plan to prevent home foreclosures, along with his $634 billion, 10-year proposal to improve healthcare. The administration's aggressive efforts to save the financial industry also represent big government in action, moving toward what Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner says will be a "dramatically different" form of capitalism. And there is Obama's far-reaching campaign to cut U.S. dependence on fossil fuels, partly by taxing carbon emissions, to create what some administration officials call a "green society."

These new policies would alter the social and political landscape in a number of ways. They would, for example, shift away from deregulation of the financial industry to more government control. On energy, they would firmly steer the country away from its current reliance on foreign oil, which is a long-standing problem that can sometimes result in soaring gasoline prices ($4 per gallon a year ago), damage millions of family budgets, and cause inflation in the overall economy. Instead, Obama favors energy conservation, alternative fuels, and renewables such as solar and wind power.

It's all part of Obama's effort to use the current economic crisis to bring significant change to society. Georgetown University political scientist Stephen Wayne disagrees with Republican idealogues who have tried to cast Obama as a socialist but says, "He does believe government can play a role in a crisis where nothing else works and in terms of preventing a crisis, and he believes government can play a role—and this is a hot issue—in better equalizing wealth in society." Obama's plan to overhaul healthcare, for example, fits into both categories, crisis management and equalizing resources, Wayne adds, but his goal of redistributing wealth "drives Republicans bonkers." GOP critics say the best policy is to keep taxes low, including taxes on affluent Americans and companies that can use the additional money to make investments and increase economic growth.

All in all, Obama's agenda seems to represent the biggest surge in government activism since Lyndon Johnson's Great Society in the 1960s. And it is nothing short of a fundamental attempt to roll back the less-government objectives that have dominated debate in Washington since Ronald Reagan ushered in a conservative era in the 1980s.

Senior advisers to Obama say the administration has been forced by the economic meltdown to get ever more deeply involved in many phases of society that government has avoided for a long time. "There are things that we have put off for many, many, many years," says White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. "Instead of dealing with the problems that have been before us, instead of making the investments that we needed to, in things like healthcare and education, we ran up these amazing deficits and got nothing for them. So the president understands that he's going to have to ask people to take part in something that hasn't been done in this town in a long time, which is to look ahead and understand that we can't continue to kick these problems down the road."

Obama's budget proposal for next year is a good example of his move toward big government. He calls for cutting the current $1.7 trillion deficit in half within four years, which experts say is a very elusive goal. In the near term, his budget has $3.55 trillion in spending and a $1.17 trillion deficit in 2010 and is based on what critics call overly optimistic economic assumptions. He wants to impose penalties on polluting industries, make the nation independent of foreign sources of oil, and overhaul the healthcare system. Obama also seeks to redistribute wealth by increasing taxes on the rich and cutting taxes for the middle class and the poor in order to address growing income disparities.

The stimulus program enacted last month also contains a number of provisions designed to steer the economy in specific directions, something that many free-market conservatives abhor: $2 billion to foster advanced battery technology to save on fossil fuels, $5 billion for home weatherization, $11 billion to update the electrical grid and encourage the development of renewable energy, and $300 million for states and localities to buy electric and hybrid cars.

Criticism is rising that Obama and Democrats in Congress are overreaching and diverting attention from the economy to less urgent matters. The latest big name to join the chorus is billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who supported Obama in the election. Buffett told CNBC Monday that the economy has "fallen off a cliff" and that Obama's explanation of how he will end the meltdown remains unclear. He predicted a substantial rise in unemployment from the current 8 percent and an increase in inflation. Buffett said Obama and other politicians should focus on the economy and "defer most of the things that get people riled up." But he expressed confidence that Obama will eventually get the job done.

There are many opinions on this issue but the GOP stance is well known and documented. Big Government is evil personified. The real question, is it?

If you pay attention to history, U.S. as well as the world, the answer is NOT always. Note the qualifier.

There are things that government, at all levels (local, state, federal) can do for citizens to make their lives better. There are things that need to be done that individual citizens cannot do. The real argument is just which things should government do?

GOP ideology = government do nothing or very little. They do not believe in government being a tool for the benefit of citizens. As for the rest of us, we can decide for ourselves.

There is one thing to consider in this context. As stated in a previous post.....

Let’s today step out of the normal boundaries of analysis of our economic crisis and ask a radical question: What if the crisis of 2008 represents something much more fundamental than a deep recession? What if it’s telling us that the whole growth model we created over the last 50 years is simply unsustainable economically and ecologically and that 2008 was when we hit the wall — when Mother Nature and the market both said: “No more.”


Thursday, March 19, 2009

SCIENCE - Birth of an Ocean

"Birth of an Ocean" Scientific American 2008

Excerpt from a very interesting article

In northeastern Ethiopia one of the earth’s driest deserts is making way for a new ocean. This region of the African continent, known to geologists as the Afar Depression, is pulling apart in two directions—a process that is gradually thinning the earth’s rocky outer skin. The continental crust under Afar is a mere 20 kilometers from top to bottom, less than half its original thickness, and parts of the area are over 100 meters below sea level. Low hills to the east are all that stops the Red Sea from encroaching.

Key concepts:
  • Africa is splitting apart at the seams—literally. From the southern tip of the Red Sea southward through Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique, the continent is coming unstitched along a zone called the East African Rift.

  • Like a shirtsleeve tearing under a bulging bicep, the earth’s crust rips apart as molten rock from deep down pushes up on the solid surface and stretches it thin—sometimes to its breaking point. Each new slit widens as lava fills the gap from below.

  • This spectacular geologic unraveling, already under way for millions of years, will be complete when saltwater from the Red Sea floods the massive gash. Ten million years from now the entire rift may be submerged.

—The Editors

I am a long-time reader and fan of Scientific American. In fact, BW (Before WWW).

I now use Scientific American Digital. The biggest advantage of digital versions of ANY printed media, is the ability to get just the articles you are interested in.

In the case of Scientific American Digital, for my yearly subscription, I get downloaded PDF of:
  • Versions of older (Archived) individual articles (or entire magazine) with no extra charge (this is how I got this article)

  • Versions of Special Articles for a small additional fee

  • Current month's articles or magazine for an additional fee (before archive)

  • Special Digital (only) Articles and magazines with no extra charge

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

OUTSIDE THE MAIN STREAM - 4 From Independent News

"Acid Oceans Threaten Shellfish and Much More" NewsDesk 3/11/2009

Months ahead of official United Nation climate talks, scientists are meeting in Copenhagen to discuss concerns that global climate change could be worse than 2007 predictions -- and could occur sooner.

Among the topics at hand is new Australian research that shows carbon dioxide pollution is creating acidic oceans at a rapid pace, potentially leading to the mass extinction of deep-water species, reports Agence France-Presse.

Researchers say this last occurred about 65 million years ago, when a giant release of carbon dioxide produced mass oceanic extinctions.

Current evidence shows that acidity is destroying the shells of tiny organisms that help absorb enormous amounts of carbon pollution from the atmosphere.

The Guardian reports that growing acidity is already placing pressure on shellfish and other marine life in the Arctic and Antarctic.

Though concerns about ocean acidity are on the rise among experts, the issue has had less publicity than global warming.

Scientists are hoping more severe predictions, backed by cutting-edge data, will inspire politicians to act on carbon emissions policy.

"Push to Redo Law That Lets DAs Profit From Bad Checks" ProPublica 3/17/2009

Last month, the Federal Trade Commission issued a report advocating an overhaul of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act [1] (PDF), a federal law that protects consumers from abusive collectors. The report's recommendations were welcome news to consumer advocates and ACA International [2], the trade association for the debt collection industry, which fought a recent amendment that let local prosecutors cash in from a company whose collection tactics have come under fire.

A ProPublica investigation [3] earlier this month showed how the primary beneficiary of the exemption, American Corrective Counseling Services [4], makes money by partnering with local district attorneys.

Acting under authority of the DAs, the company sends out letters on official DA letterhead that threaten prosecution and jail time if consumers do not make good on bounced checks -- even when there is virtually no chance consumers will be charged with a crime. ACCS assesses fees of several hundred dollars and kicks a portion back to DAs. Los Angeles County -- one of 150 counties in which ACCS operates -- cleared more than $1 million over four years, documents show.

Critics claim the tactics are deceptive, an accusation the company and prosecutors deny. After federal class-action lawsuits targeting the company were filed in several states, lobbyists for ACCS and district attorneys persuaded Rep. Barney Frank [5] (D-MA) to provide critical support for an FDCPA amendment [6] (PDF) that exempted the ACCS program from provisions defining abusive practices. That amendment passed in 2006 without a public hearing.

The February FTC report [7] (PDF) does not address the exemption. Instead, it concludes that "the debt collection legal system needs to be reformed and modernized to reflect changes in consumer debt, the debt collection industry, and technology." The act is more than thirty years old.

Deepak Gupta, director of the Consumer Justice Project at the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen [8], which is a party to the class-action litigation against ACCS, said odds that Congress will tackle a rewrite of the law are unclear. "I don't know whether it's a real possibility," Gupta said. "The fact the FTC has recommended that the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act be modernized is really helpful in those efforts."

ACA International opposed the amendment from the beginning. The group considers ACCS's practices abusive and believes that partnering with prosecutors gives the company an unfair competitive advantage.

"We are in the process of working on an FDCPA reform package that would eliminate the amendment that allows these bad check companies to skirt the law," said Rozanne Andersen, general counsel of ACA International. Andersen said the group is trying to win over Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), chairman of the Senate Banking Committee [9].

Frank, now the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee [10], said in a recent interview that ACCS's practices deserve to be looked at, but his office has not answered questions about whether or when the congressman will follow through.

The company's attorney has said its program is within the law and that all its collection actions are taken under authority of local district attorneys.

"Hard-Right PAC Complicates GOP Mission" Washington Independent 3/17/2009

Over the weekend, Steve Greenberg turned on his TV to watch college basketball and was treated to something that’s become unavoidable in his part of the country: a new ad for the special election in New York’s 20th Congressional District. This one was attacking Scott Murphy, the venture capitalist nominated by the Democratic, Independence, and Working Families parties to replace now-Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

“Scott Murphy bragged he created thousands of jobs,” said a female narrator, in a tone of voice that made her sound like Murphy’s disappointed homeroom teacher. “But just not here in New York. He created jobs in India. And just like the rest of Wall Street, Murphy paid big bonuses to executives while working people struggle to get by.”

The National Republican Trust PAC, a well-heeled Washington, D.C.-based political group, has spent $190,000 to put that ad on the air. But according to the non-partisan Siena Research Institute, for whom Greenberg is a spokesman, negative ads against Murphy are not paying dividends. According to the Siena Poll released on March 12, Murphy has closed a double-digit gap and is now just four points behind Republican candidate Jim Tedisco. Only 12 percent of voters said the ads they saw for Tedisco made them more likely to support the Republican, to 28 percent who said they became less likely to support him.

Voters may be blaming Tedisco for a campaign he isn’t running. “It is really hard for voters,” said Greenberg, “outside of guys like me who pay attention to this stuff, to discern between an ad for Murphy or an ad by the national Democrats, an ad by Tedisco or an ad by someone who supports Tedisco.”

Republicans are looking for signs of hope from the race in NY-20, a sprawling, rural district that covers much of the Hudson Valley. The election is not just a chance to add to the diminished Republican ranks in the House, but also an opportunity to break through the media clutter and start talking about a political comeback. Last month, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele called the race a “battle royale” that could give the party a crucial win. But last week, as polls showed the race tightening, Tedisco announced that he was “taking over” his campaign and ditching negative ads. It was seen as a rejection of the National Republican Congressional Committee’s strategy of attacks on Murphy’s business record

Neither the NRCC nor outside groups such as the National Republican Trust are paying much heed to Tedisco. NRCC spokesman Ken Spain said that the committee had an “obligation” to educate voters about Murphy. Strategists for two independent groups that are running controversial anti-Murphy ads in NY-20 say they’re doing what conservatives want as the mealy-mouthed national party falters. The two PACs weighing in for Tedisco - the National Republican Trust and Our Country Deserves Better PAC - allow conservative donors to fund red meat attacks from less-experienced political operators.

“We don’t talk to the Tedisco campaign,” said Scott Wheeler, the executive director of the National Republican Trust PAC. “It’s our job to expose Scott Murphy. He is the poster boy for Democrat Party hypocrisy that has, for far too long, been allowed to go unchecked.”

“I believe what I say,” Wheeler said. “That’s why some political insiders describe me as a wingnut.”

His National Republican Trust PAC has been stunningly successful in garnering money and attention for TV ads that attack candidates on points that Republican campaigns won’t touch. It was launched in September 2008 by Wheeler, a journalist who worked at the conservative Cybercast News Service, and Peter Leitner, a national security consultant who worked for the Reagan administration. Neither had worked in politics before, but they rented mailing lists and appealed to conservative donors for an ad that told voters about what they said were Barack Obama’s plans to give Social Security benefits and drivers’ licenses to illegal immigrants. In the final weekend of 2008 presidential campaign, the National Republican Trust PAC spent $2.5 million on prime-time, broadcast TV ads that played portions of Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s sermons while telling viewers that Obama “had never complained once” about Wright.

By the end of the 2008 campaign the National Republican Trust PAC had spent $8.14 million against Obama and $633,000 in the runoff for Georgia’s U.S. Senate seat. Wheeler and Leitner point to that second campaign as proof of their success in pushing bold, harsh messages that party committees blanch at. Fox News pundit Dick Morris, whose Triangulation Strategies was paid $27,000 by the National Republican Trust PAC before the Georgia runoff, has praised the group publicly and lent his name to its fundraising e-mails. This has financed an aggressive campaign that, according to Wheeler and Leitner, is exposing politicians whom the mainstream media gives a pass. According to Leitner, one example of media failure — and why the National Republican Trust PAC needs to do its work — is the lack of investigation into whether Obama is an American citizen. (Most media outlets have been satisfied with a Hawaiian certificate of live birth that the Obama campaign made public last summer.)

“The media has really failed in its function as a Fourth Estate,” explained Leitner. “The documentation about Obama’s basic eligibility for the presidency needs to be seen, if he wants to put the issue to rest once and for all.”

“It’s not just about the birth certificate,” Leitner continued. “There are some other documents that should exist — for example, the declaration his mother made when she came back into U.S. after living in Indonesia. Was she accompanied by an infant? Was she pregnant at the time? Was she traveling with a minor? This is normal government record keeping, and it would be revealed by anyone who had nothing to hide.”

Our Country Deserves Better PAC, which is based in California and headed by frequent Republican candidate and former state Assemblyman Howard Kaloogian, lacks the funding of the National Republican Trust PAC. At the start of 2009, it had only $140,000 in the bank to the National Republican Trust PAC’s $1.9 million. But its strategists share Wheeler and Leitner’s view of the mainstream media and of the muddled messaging of the Republican Party.

“We created the PAC last year because there was a widespread feeling that the McCain campaign did not have its act together,” said Our Country Deserves Better PAC chief strategist Sal Russo. “It did not have a clear message. John Boehner and Mitch McConnell haven’t emerged as big leaders. Michael Steele has a lot of promise, but he got off to a bad start.”

Like the National Republican Trust PAC, Kaloogian and Russo’s group ran a Jeremiah Wright ad because the John McCain campaign wouldn’t touch the issue. Like the larger PAC, it has dropped ads into NY-20 that touch on issues Tedisco will no longer talk about, such as an article Murphy co-wrote in college that argued for keeping the ROTC off campus, and tax liens placed against a business Murphy founded. The ads began running in early March, when the NRCC was running with the same material, and when Tedisco had no objection to the NRCC’s campaign. Since then, Murphy has risen in the polls.

Fewer people in NY-20 have seen Our Country Deserves Better PAC’s ads than have seen most other commercials in the district — the group’s first buy, in early March, was only $9,490. But the presence of both groups in the district is cutting against the Republican candidate’s message.

"Homes Keep Selling" Voice of San Diego 3/16/2009

We got the new MDA DataQuick numbers for February today:

As Rich Toscano elucidated recently, home sales are quite resilient. And that's remarkable in light of, as he put it, the "general economic carnage" out there.

The DataQuick numbers tell a similar story.

Home sales overall in February numbered 2,470. That's up 26.4 percent year-over-year.

February's stats continued a trend that started last July for year-over-year increases in home sales -- this was the eighth consecutive month for the trend.

Last month, more than 1,570 resale houses sold, and 725 resale condos, for year-over-year increases of more than 40 percent in each category.

Of the resales, 52.2 percent had been foreclosed on at some point in the prior 12 months. That was up 36.2 percent from a year earlier, but down a bit from January, when 53.7 percent of the homes sold had been foreclosures.

The only category to see a year-over-year drop in sales was new homes, which logged 168 sales. That's down from last February's 330. It was the lowest month for the new home sales category since DataQuick started keeping records in 1988.

POLITICS - Latest Fact vs. Fiction, PolitFact

"Obama health plan does not call for government-run health care"

When Sen. Tom Coburn said that under President Obama, "all the health care in this country is eventually going to be run by the government," it was like a golden oldie PolitiFact has heard many times before.

During the campaign, we heard the same tune from vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin , who said Obama was calling for a "government-run plan"; Mitt Romney , who said Obama "wants the government to take over health care"; and Rudy Giuliani , who called Hillary Clinton's similar plan "socialized medicine." (We rated their statements Barely True , Barely True and False .)

Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, made his remarks while criticizing Obama on a different matter. Obama is moving to rescind Bush administration rules that protected medical workers from performing procedures such as abortion that conflicted with their religious or moral beliefs.

Coburn, who is against abortion, said rescinding the order would be only a first step for the Obama administration.

"Remember, under the Obama plan . . . all the health care in this country is eventually going to be run by the government," Coburn said in an interview on Fox News on March 4, 2009.

"So it's part of an incremental creep towards eliminating any objection, both as us as taxpayers and then individual physicians in terms of not complying with a government-run bureaucracy," he added.

Coburn and Obama can fairly disagree about conscience protections for health care workers who oppose abortions. But he's wrong that Obama's plan offers government-run health care.

In fact, Obama's plan leaves in place the private health care system, but seeks to expand it to the uninsured. It increases eligibility for the poor and children to enroll in initiatives like Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, and creates pools for individuals to buy their own cheaper insurance. It also outlines strategies to rein in costs for everyone, such as electronic medical records and preventive care.

"I think most of us would agree that if we want to cover all Americans, we can't make the mistake of trying to fix what isn't broken," Obama said at a health care conference he hosted on March 5. "So if somebody has insurance they like, they should be able to keep that insurance. If they have a doctor that they like, they should be able to keep their doctor. They should just pay less for the care that they receive."

Would Obama's plan result in closer regulation of the health care system? Very likely so. It includes provisions that require health insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions and disclose more information about how they treat patients. Obama's plan also calls for evidence-based health care standards, so that government can stop paying (through programs like Medicare) for treatments that don't get good results. But the plan is very different from some European-style health systems where the government owns health clinics and employs doctors.

We asked Coburn's office about his remarks. "What matters is not just President Obama’s intent, or what his plan states, but the likely effect and consequences of his plan," said spokesman John Hart. "Under Obama’s approach, the only plans left standing will be those controlled by the government."

That may be Sen. Coburn's opinion on what could happen, but it's definitely not part of Obama's plan. And Coburn was very specific in saying that "under the Obama plan, all the health care in this country is eventually going to be run by the government." That gives the incorrect impression that Obama is promoting a government-run health care system. He's not. We rate Coburn's statement False.

"Obama health plan does not call for government-run health care"

"Earmarks down, but not 75 percent"

With Democrats now running the show, it's their turn to take the heat for earmarks in a $410 billion omnibus spending bill to keep the government running for the rest of the fiscal year.

Congressional Democrats and the White House have been quick to note this spending bill is actually a holdover from the previous administration, that things will be different next year, and that earmarks hit a peak during Republican control in the middle part of this decade.

On CNN's "State of the Union" on March 8, Peter Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said, "Look, the earmarks have come down significantly, 75 percent."

The same day on NBC's Meet the Press , Sen. Charles Schumer threw out a nearly identical assessment: "The bottom line is, there's been serious reform. We are now, this year, two years later, there's one-fifth the earmarks there were before — not 80 percent, 20 percent from before. They are transparent. No Bridge to Nowhere could occur."

When it comes to earmarks, lots of numbers get thrown around. Different groups have different definitions of earmarks. Some people look at the number of earmarks, some at the dollar amount, some both.

Most everyone agrees that earmarks have gone down with Democrats at the helm, but we haven't found any source to reasonably back up claims that earmarks have declined anywhere near 75 or 80 percent.

According to the math provided by the Senate Appropriations Committee (Democratic-controlled, we note), earmarks were reduced by 43 percent last year, and the omnibus appropriations bill reduces earmarks by another 5 percent.

There's a big caveat to their numbers: They do not include "project-based" federal programs. For example, the Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees federal water projects, has such a high percentage of earmarks in its overall budget that Democrats exclude the projects from the totals. Their reasoning is that if they promise to cut earmarks by a certain percentage, as they have in the past few years, these programs will be disproportionately cut. By their count, there are $3.8 billion worth of earmarks in the omnibus bill.

The most trusted source in earmark accounting, Taxpayers for Common Sense, doesn't go for excluding that "non-project-based" stuff.

"An earmark is an earmark," said Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense. "You can't start sequestering things off. I mean, I can meet my weight loss goals if I don't count my butt."

They count more than 8,500 disclosed earmarks in the omnibus bill, coming to $7.7 billion. Together with $6.6 billion in disclosed earmarks in the three 2009 spending bills that passed in the fall, earmarks for the year come to $14.3 billion, which is $500 million less than earmarks last year, they note. Less, but not a whole lot less in the big picture.

The total amount of last year's earmarks represented a 23 percent reduction from the high water mark in 2005, according to TCS. The slight reduction this year would add a couple percentage points to that. But in no way does it come anywhere near the reduction of 75 or 80 percent that Orszag and Schumer cited.

So, we asked, where did Schumer and Orszag get their figures?

Schumer's office didn't respond.

And a spokesman from Orszag's Office of Management and Budget sent this vague reply: "A number of groups which tally earmarks have estimates on the level of reductions that are in the omnibus. Peter pulled from those."

Um, okay.

In summary, based on the figures from the most respected source on earmarks, Taxpayers for Common Sense — which uses Congress' own definition of earmarks — the figures cited by Orszag and Schumer are way off.

The Appropriation Committee numbers are a little closer to those cited by Schumer and Orszag. But we don't buy this number because it excludes "project-based" federal programs.

We note that Obama, in an announcement about earmark reform on March 11, said earmarks "hit their peak in the middle of this decade, when the number of earmarks had ballooned to more than 16,000." This number appears to include "project-based" federal programs. As we think it should.

At any rate, the Appropriations Committee numbers suggest less than a 50 percent reduction — not 75 or 80 percent. We don't know where Orszag and Schumer got their numbers. And they aren't saying. At least not to us. But the authorities on this matter say their calculations are bunk. We agree. And we rule the statements False.

"Yes, Rep. John Boehner has never asked for earmarks"

When House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, urged President Obama to veto the $410 billion omnibus spending bill because of all the earmarks in it, he spoke from particularly high ground on the issue.

"I don't do earmarks," Boehner said in a news conference on March 12, 2009. "I've never done one. I'm not going to do one."

Indeed, that's he promised back in 1990 when he was first running for Congress. He often says he told voters, "If you are electing me to raid the federal treasury on your behalf, you're electing the wrong guy."

For eighteen years, Boehner says he hasn't wavered.

A strict earmark-free record would put him in rare company, so we decided to check it out.

"He hasn't taken any," said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, an advocacy group that doggedly tracks earmarks. "He has bragged about that long before this ever became a big deal, and he's right."

We reviewed press coverage of Boehner since he was elected and couldn't find any either.

We did find several instances where local officials pushing for various highway projects ran up against Boehner's hard line. In an article in the Dayton Daily News in 2002, one official lamented that his area would have difficulty getting federal money for a highway project because of the congressman's policy.

"If you're looking for a congressman to go after a bunch of earmarks, he's not your guy,'" said Bryan Bucklew, vice president of the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce.

It's a principled stance that hasn't always sat well with fellow Republican legislators who believe in earmarks, either.

But Boehner has stuck to his pledge. In May 2008, he told the Wall Street Journal, "It might have been the best decision I ever made."

Yet despite his personal ban, Boehner has never argued for earmarks to be eliminated completely.

"I don't think I want to hold all my colleagues to that same standard," Boehner said in a Fox News Sunday interview on Feb. 5, 2006. "There's an appropriate place for some of these earmarks, but we need less numbers of earmarks and more transparency and more accountability. Members' names ought to be associated with them. They ought to be visible. And members ought to have a chance to see these before they become law."

This year, Boehner was joined in eschewing earmarks by other House Republican leaders: Minority Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia and Conference Chairman Mike Pence of Indiana. But in the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell , R-Ky., sponsored or cosponsored 53 earmarks worth $75.5 million, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense.

All told, TCS counted more than 8,500 disclosed earmarks in the omnibus bill, coming to $7.7 billion. Together with $6.6 billion in disclosed earmarks in the three 2009 spending bills that passed in the fall, earmarks for the year come to $14.3 billion, which is $500 million less than earmarks last year. As is the custom, Republicans, as the minority party, got about 40 percent of them.

Of the 178 Republican House members, only 39 did not have earmarks in the omnibus, according to TCS. Three Democrats did not accept earmarks.

As for Boehner, he can rightfully claim he hasn't ever asked for or taken an earmark. We rule his statement True.