Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Lynne Cheney's "Sisters"

Our Second Lady, as many will know, penned a bit of lesbian soft pron several years back. Excerpts are available on whitehouse.org. An excellent review appeared at Democratic Underground a few days ago. Now it looks like the whole turgid mess is available online.

At least our kids will know where Elvis was born

Congress Trims Money for Science Agency

"Congress has cut the budget for the National Science Foundation, an engine for research in science and technology, just two years after endorsing a plan to double the amount given to the agency.
...


David M. Stonner, director of Congressional affairs at the science foundation, said on Monday that the reduction might be just the beginning of a period of austerity. Congress, Mr. Stonner said, told the agency to expect "a series of flat or slightly declining budgets for the next several years."

...

Representative Vernon J. Ehlers, Republican of Michigan, said the cut was 'extremely short-sighted' and showed 'dangerous disregard for our nation's future.'

'I am astonished that we would make this decision at a time when other nations continue to surpass our students in math and science and consistently increase their funding of basic research,' said Mr. Ehlers, a former physics professor who is chairman of a technology subcommittee. 'The National Science Foundation supports technological innovation that is crucial to the sustained economic prosperity that America has enjoyed for several decades.'

Representative David R. Obey of Wisconsin, the senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said the cut was 'the most Luddite provision' in the entire bill.

...


While cutting the budget of the science foundation, Congress found money for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in Birmingham, the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, bathhouses in Hot Springs, Ark., and hundreds of similar projects.

...


Todd C. Mesek, a spokesman for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which is receiving $350,000, said the money would be well spent on education programs to teach children about language, the mathematics of music and geography ('cities where rock and roll was fostered'). Some of the money, Mr. Meek said, will be used for 'toddler rock,' a music therapy program. "

I'm not sure I understand all the excitement here. If we've decided to be a nation of citizens who are either ignorant about or rigidly disregard well-established science, it doesn't make much sense to piss away any money at all on the NSF.

(via The Poorman)




Department of silver linings

Judith Miller Finds It's 'Hard to Keep Doing Your Job'

"Judith Miller, The New York Times reporter, one of several journalists facing jail time for refusing to reveal who leaked the identify of a CIA operative last year, says she is 'in a state of denial' about the prospect of going off to jail as a crucial contempt of court appeal approaches in a week.

She also says she can only get a fraction of planned work done because of the ongoing meetings, interviews, and legal planning for her defense. 'There is a list of about 20 things I had hoped to do by the end of the year and I will be lucky to get one or two done,' she told E &P on Tuesday.

'It is hard to keep doing your job, which is part of the suppressive effect of these cases,' Miller added. 'I am supposed to becovering the oil-for-food (scandal) and it is very hard to plan a trip or make calls.'"

I'm not real big on throwing reporters in the clink for protecting their sources, however corrupt those sources may be. For every Douchebag of Liberty like Novak, whose sole function in life is to serve as a media tool for corrupt right-wing powerbrokers, there's a guy like Jim Taricani in Providence, who is about to be sentenced for contempt by a judge who has been Queeg-like in his efforts to track down the source of an ultimately meaningless leak that had no bearing in a case that has long since been settled.

But I'm sorely tempted to make an exception for Judith Miller; anything that keeps her from doing what she views as being her job can't be all bad. That the Times would allow her to report on anything vaguely related to Iraq or Ahmed Chalabi at this point is utterly inexplicable, and is an indication of just how invested they are in offering their readers credible information on the situation in Iraq. Which is to say, not much at all.








British Embassy sounds alarm over growing dangers in Iraq

Reuters: Disintegrating security in Baghdad was underlined in a sombre warning yesterday from the British embassy against using the airport road or taking a plane out of Iraq.

The embassy says a bomb was discovered on a flight inside Iraq on 22 November. It shows that insurgents have been able to penetrate the stringent security at Baghdad airport. The embassy says its own staff have been advised against taking commercial planes.

The warning is in sharp contrast to more optimistic statements from US military commanders after the capture of Fallujah in which they have spoken of "breaking the back of the insurgency".

The embassy says that the road between Baghdad and the international airport, perhaps the most important highway in the country, is now too dangerous to use. The advice says starkly: "With effect from 28 November, the British embassy ceased all movements on the Baghdad International airport road."

The airport road is littered with evidence of previous attacks: the twisted cars used by suicide bombers and craters from roadside bombs.

There are no safe havens. Since March, 14 British civilians have been killed. Not only have insurgents proved capable of putting a bomb on a plane, but on 14 October two suicide bombers entered the heavily fortified Green Zone and blew themselves up, killing five people and injuring many more.


Like Soviet citizens 30 years ago, we had better start getting used to sourcing our news from the foreign press, because what we hear from domestic sources bears little semblence to reality, and that situation will only get worse. Radio Free Canada, anyone?

Iraq Oil Infrastructure Losing Billions


Between August and October, Iraq lost $7 billion dollars in potential revenues due to sabotage against the country's oil infrastructure, according to Assem Jihad, spokesman of the Oil Ministry.

An estimated 20 oil wells and pipelines were bombed or set abalze this month in northern Iraq alone, according to an official of the Northern Company. Iraq has oilfields in the north around Kirkuk and in the south near Basra.
...
Maj. Gen. Anwar Mohammed Amin, chief of the Iraqi National Guardsmen in Kirkuk, said that Erinys hires tribes to guard oil installations. For guarding pipelines, he said the going rate is $1,100 per mile secured.

"The tribes are fighting over who wins the largest number of contracts," Amin said, adding that the losers "blow up the pipelines and oil wells in retaliation."

Tribesmen who own land through which the pipelines pass sometimes break them to steal oil for sale.


Short of bringing in an extra 100,000 or so armed guards, there does not seem to be an obvious solution to this problem. And if the insurgents have unlimited weapons (from the ammo dumps we chose not guard) and easy access to oil, which is easy currency, they should be able to soldier on for years.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Give "marriage" to the churches

from Daily Kos
Arguments against gay marriage are predicated entirely, 100 percent, on emotion. And the vehicle for those emotional appeals are the word "marriage". A mere semantic.

Or it would be, if government rights and benefits weren't predicated on that single word.

So let's gift the word "marriage" to the churches, grant themexclusive use, and get the government out of the realm of "marriage". That way, churches could define whatever it was they called "marriage" (you know, that thing with a 50 percent success rate), and leave the government to certify legal "unions" -- you know, those things between people who love each other.

That way, the churches could find ways to really save marriage, by figuring out how to keep their flocks from divorcing, cheating and abusing their spouses.


Exactly.

Personal use pot argued before the Supremes

If medical weed is ever gonna get the blessing of the highest court in the land, now is the time. This case involves personal use only, and the figurehead plaintiff is pretty sympathetic. There has been an elegant inversion of the normal alignment of law and fact -- the pro-toke folks are using a states' rights argument. And of course, the conservative Chief Justice is battling cancer, and may even be going through chemo.

The feds are trotting out a parade of horribles they want the Court to focus on.

A loss for the government, on the other hand, could jeopardize federal oversight of illegal drugs and raise questions in other areas such as product safety and environmental activities. A Bush administration lawyer told the justices they would be encouraging people to use potentially harmful marijuana if they were to side with the women.

"If they're right, then I think their analysis would extend to recreational use of marijuana, as well as medical use of marijuana, and would extend to every state in the nation, not just those states that made it lawful," said Paul Clement, acting solicitor general.

I'm normally skeptical of slippery slope arguments, but this one gives me some pause. Will Texas try to opt out the the Clean Air Act if the Court allows California to opt out of the federal program here? What if Alabama opts out of civil rights legislation?

In our desperate attempts to make lemonade out of our electoral lemons, liberals have talked a fair amount about going our own way via states' rights arguments. I think we will need to really think that one through before we head down that road.

In this case I think a narrow decision in favor of medical Mary Jane is possible. The basis for damn near all federal legislation is something called the Commerce Clause, and it has been twisted beyond recognition over the years, but the Rehnquist court has tried to put some limits on it. I think the Court could reasonably find that federal law can't reach the home-grown personal stash of these patients. Of course, from the perspective of the feds, this could mean they can't reach your personal homegrown stash, either.

Complicated, ain't it?

Like he said

D. A. Blyler gets it right over at The Raw Story:

"For decades now the Democrats have been afflicted with an insidious disease I’ve come to call SWNS, or Sudden Withdrawal of Nutsack Syndrome. This nasty disorder not only finds a suitable host in politicians, but among professionals of all trades. "

More here.

Apologies Accepted - the world's answer to sorryeverybody.com

Touching, but still sad. Because evil will still this way come, and that way go.

Quietly released Pentagon report contains major criticisms of administration.

From the Christian Science Monitor:

Late on the Wednesday afternoon before the Thanksgiving holiday, the US Defense Department released a report by the Defense Science Board that is highly critical of the administration's efforts in the war on terror and in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

'Muslims do not hate our freedom, but rather they hate our policies [the report says]. The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the long-standing, even increasing, support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan and the Gulf states. Thus, when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy.'
...
The report also takes the administration to task for talking about Islamic extremism in a way that offends many Muslims. "In stark contrast to the cold war, the United States today is not seeking to contain a threatening state empire, but rather seeking to convert a broad movement within Islamic civilization to accept the value structure of Western Modernity – an agenda hidden within the official rubric of a 'War on Terrorism.'"
...
Wired News reported the board as saying, the US has not only failed to separate "the vast majority of nonviolent Muslims from the radical-militant Islamist-Jihadists," but American efforts may have "achieved the opposite of what they intended."


Looks like it is time to clean house over at the Pentagon too, eh George? Mix up another batch of that Kool Aid, Dick.

Crooked Timber: Fighting Inflation as Class Warfare

Great discussion of the politics of macroeconomics.

Macro has always been the messy part of economic theory. Reality is much more complex than any workable model could ever be. This state of affairs has had the salutary (for economists, anyway) of letting some pretty silly theories maintain a veneer of legitimacy long past their sell-by dates. Remember Arthur Laffer? He was the guy who said that Reagan's tax cuts would shrink the deficit. Despite the evidence to the contrary, he still has adherents, because, natch, they can read the data any damn way they please. Perhaps the best statement of the realities of macro came from my macro professor. When a student pointed out that a theory the prof had just explained was refuted by the evidence of the real world, he replied, "The real world is a special case, which need not concern us here."

The linked posting casts inflation in class terms, and makes a pretty good case. The interesting question is, of course, about what happens next. Bush's fiscal policies are setting us up for big jumps in interest rates, and inflation was rolling at 20% annulized clip last month. But given the over-leveraging ofthe American consumer, a big boost in interest rates is likely to bring a wave of foreclosures, bankruptcies and other fun happenings.

U.S. may go it alone on Iran sanctions

(Reuters) - Iran has escaped U.N. censure over its nuclear programme but Washington, which accuses it of seeking an atomic bomb, says it reserves the right to take the case to the Security Council on its own.

I am reminded of those stupid cartoons that seem to appear every December with an old, haggard guy with the year about to end written on him handing off to a baby labeled with the new year.

Iraq is so last year. So let's wipe it off the front page with this year's model. The hymnal will probably open to the right page of its own accord by now.

I never understood set theory, anyways

You really do have to read his entire post, but the General has come across a publisher of textbooks promoting Christian Conservative education. A snippet from their website:

"Unlike the 'modern math' theorists, who believe that mathematics is a creation of man and thus arbitrary and relative, we believe that the laws of mathematics are a creation of God and thus absolute. All of the laws of mathematics are God's laws. Our knowledge of God's absolute mathematical laws may be incomplete or at times in error, but that merely shows human frailty, not relativity in mathematics. Man's task is to search out and make use of the laws of the universe, both scientific and mathematical. A Beka Book provides attractive, legible, workable traditional mathematics texts that are not burdened with modern theories such as set theory... Besides training students in the basic skills that they will need all their lives, the A Beka Book traditional mathematics books teach students to believe in the absolutes of the universe, to work diligently to get right answers, and to see the facts of mathematics as part of the truth and order that God has built into the real universe."

Welcome to education in American today. This is the illogical extreme, of course, but creationism is hotter than the hula hoop with various Boards of Education across the country these days, and it won't stop there.

You can argue about fully funding No Child Left Behind until you turn blue, but as long as "education" is defined as getting kids to memorize a set body of information for national testing purposes, we're fucked. As long as politicians and other demagogues are allowed to get away with arrogantly denigrating highly educated Americans who have given their lives and careers over to tackling tough questions, we're fucked. As long as we live in a culture that is unable or unwilling to differentiate theological belief from evidence-based theories (or facts), and keep the former out of public schools, we're fucked. As long as our leaders in Washington are allowed to ignore or dishonestly ridicule reams of sound scientific evidence about our climate because it doesn't serve corporate America's bottom line, we're fucked. As long as those same leaders refuse to fund promising scientific research because their noisy flat-earth constituencies might be offended by it, we're fucked.

Here's where it will stop. The rest of the developed world is going to decline our invitation to join us on our trip back to the Dark Ages. They're going to go ahead and teach their kids to think critically, to appreciate fact from fantasy, to embrace the possibilities that new technologies and discoveries have to offer, and they're going to kick our asses in the laboratory, in the marketplace and in any other arena you can name. And the other countries are going to be exporting their crummy jobs for crummy pay to the good old U.S. of A., and we're going to take them because we're going to have so many citizens unable to do anything more challenging.

New (Testament) Math

Dubya's least favorite philosopher would undoubtedly be Nietzsche, because Fred considered Christianity a religion of slaves. (Although to be fair, there are things Dub might grossly misinterpret to his advantage in Beyond Good and Evil). But Dubya's allies are certainly doing their part in pushing Nietzsche into Nostradamus-land as predicter par excellence.

The linked blog posting from the most excellent Jesus' General contains excerpts from a recent Inquisition-approved textbook provider. Lots of righteousness on display. Check out the math test questions at the end of the entry.

If our schools churn out enought students taught this way, we will indeed be a nation of slaves -- slaves to our Chinese and Indian masters, who use numbers for things other than references to King James-version pages.

Payback time, indeed

These guys can't get enough air time to suit me:

Evangelicals to Bush: Payback Time

"Among some conservative Christians, there is a belief that President Bush received a 'moral mandate' to win the recent presidential election — and they are calling on him to act on their agenda now.

'I believe Our Lord elected our president and I believe he put him in office and it is my prayer that he will sustain him in office,' said one woman at the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Another was asked if she believed that God intervened in the election. 'Absolutely,' she said.

...

By one measure, conservative Christians comprised 12 percent of the electorate this year — the same as four years ago. But they see themselves as a crucial piece of the president's political base.

They believe that if their agenda is not implemented quickly — if their concerns are not addressed in a timely fashion — God will be angry.

One leading evangelist recently warned, 'God's patience runs out.'"


Are you listening, Mr. President? Senator Frist? Rep. Hastert? That's your mandate calling, and now that you're running the show, they want action on that morality platform you said you'd deliver during the campaign. Let's get busy!

Or, do you really not give a shit about them now that you've pocketed their votes?

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Some of our special friends across the pond drink the Kool-aid

In a desperate attempt to balance the growing trade deficit, the United States appears to have turned to exporting scientific fraud and intellectual dishonesty:

Greenhouse effect 'may benefit man'

"Climate change is 'a myth', sea levels are not rising and Britain's chief scientist is 'an embarrassment' for believing catastrophe is inevitable. These are the controversial views of a new London-based think-tank that will publish a report tomorrow attacking the apocalyptic view that man-made greenhouse gases will destroy the planet.

The International Policy Network will publish its long-awaited study, claiming that the science warning of an environmental disaster caused by climate change is 'fatally flawed'. It will state that previous predictions of changes in sea level of a metre over the next 100 years were overestimates.

Instead, the report will say that sea level rises will reach a maximum of just 20cms during the next century, adding that global warming could, in fact, benefit mankind by increasing fish stocks.

The report's views closely mirror those held by many of President George Bush's senior advisers, who have been accused of derailing attempts to reach international agreement over how to prevent climate change.

The report is set to cause controversy. The network, which has links with some of the President's advisers, has received cash donations from the US oil giant ExxonMobil, which has long lobbied against the climate change agenda. Exxon lists the donation as part of its 'climate change outreach' programme.

Environmentalists yesterday said the network report was an attempt by American neo-conservatives to sabotage the Prime Minister's attempts to lead the world in tackling climate change.
...
The executive director of the environment group Greenpeace, Stephen Tindale, said: 'We've been watching how the network employs the same tactics as Washington neo-cons, now we know they employ some of the same people as well.


'For years, the tobacco companies blocked action on smoking by sowing doubt about the science. Esso and its friends have done the same thing in the US on climate change and now they're busy in Britain. Global warming is the biggest threat we face, the science is certain.' "

(from the Observer, via Rawstory)






OK, we give up now

Pakistan to scale back bin Laden hunt

"PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) – The Pakistan army said Saturday it will withdraw hundreds of troops from a tense tribal region near Afghanistan where Osama bin Laden and his top deputy were believed to be.The withdrawals from the South Waziristan area come after several military operations by thousands of troops against remnants of bin Laden’s al-Qaida organization and its supporters in recent months.Although the tribal region is considered a possible hiding place for bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, a senior Pakistan general said earlier this month that no sign of bin Laden has been found."

No biggie. The Boy King doesn't think about him much at all, and, apparently, neither do fifty-one percent of the American people.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Federally funded faith-based mentoring

The Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation is suing to halt direct federal funding of a Christian child-mentoring program in Arizona that has its mentors "share the good news of who Jesus is and how he can provide a future of hope for anyone."


MentorKids USA of Phoenix, Ariz., has received a $225,000, three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, according to the federal lawsuit filed here.

The Arizona group's Web site says: "We are a faith-based organization working in partnerships with churches and local Christian community to enlist, train and support Christian mentors."

According to the lawsuit, MentorKids gives all mentors a faith statement which says: "The Bible is God's authoritative and inspired word that is without error in all its teachings, including creation, history, its origins, and salvation, and Christians must submit to its divine authority, both individually and corporately, in all matters of belief and conduct."

That statement also says "all people are lost sinners and cannot see the Kingdom of God except through the new birth. Justification is by grace through faith in Christ alone."

In the new America, this kind of thing is going to be ubiquitous, and Nino Scalia's Supreme Court will do nothing to stop it. We didn't need an Establishment Clause anyway.

End of the Line for Nightline?

Reports are circulating that ABC's Nightline could soon be relegated to TV history and replaced by Jimmy Kimmel's talk show, which would move up in the lineup and compete directly against NBC's Jay Leno and CBS' David Letterman.

Such rumors made their way into print last week in a Wall Street Journal report about the resignation of Leroy Sievers, Nightline's co-executive producer, considered the driving force behind the late-night half hour.

Sievers told the Journal that he and Nightline were parting company because of the "fundamental changes and direction of the series."

In case you hadn't seen any signs of the end of the world over the current holiday, here you go. Nightline did a great piece debunking the Swift smear about a week before the election. It appears that thequid for that quo was not long in coming. Ted, since you are the last journalist to leave, please turn out the lights.

What will Howard say about this?

Satellite Radio May Not Escape FCC Restrictions

"With envelope-pushing air talent like Howard Stern and Opie & Anthony flocking to the less-restricted refuge of satellite radio, could the Federal Communications Commission (news - web sites) be far behind?

Specifically, could the FCC (
news - web sites) enforce its indecency rules -- which Stern claims drove him away from terrestrial radio -- on satellite radio too?

That's exactly what Saul Levine is hoping for. On Oct. 29, Levine, the president of Mt. Wilson FM Broadcasters, filed a Petition for Rulemaking to amend Part 25 of the FCC's pending satellite radio rules to include an indecency provision.

While legal experts say subscription radio enjoys deeper First Amendment protections than free radio, Levine's petition argues that the FCC is, in fact, empowered to enforce indecency rules on satellite radio and asks the commission to 'level (the) playing field.'
...

According to Levine's petition, the FCC already has subjected satellite radio to Equal Employment Opportunity and political broadcasting rules and policies. What's more, the petition says, the type of radio service (i.e., broadcast, common carrier, etc.) 'is not a relevant consideration' in the imposition of programing or public-interest rules, nor is whether satellite
radio operates as a broadcast or subscription service. In fact, the FCC put satcasters on notice in 1997 that it 'may adopt additional public-interest requirements at a later date.'
...

Squaring indecency restrictions on subscription radio with the First Amendment could be difficult. When the Supreme Court upheld the FCC's power to regulate indecency in the landmark Pacifica case of the 1970s, it cited the 'pervasive' nature of free, over-the-air broadcasting to justify its ruling.

But the 'pervasiveness' argument breaks down when talking about satellite radio, a Senate staffer familiar with the issue says.

'Satellite radio is a paid service,' the staffer says. 'You elect to have it, you elect to buy it and you elect to turn it on. It's something that you choose.'

First Amendment attorney and former FCC counsel Bob Corn-Revere, who wrote the recent Viacom reply brief in the indecency case over the Janet Jackson (
news) incident at the Super Bowl, agrees that it would be difficult for the FCC to act on indecency in the satellite realm.

'The FCC doesn't have the authority to write unconstitutional rules,' Corn-Revere says."

The FM industry's actions are understandable. You've got to pull out all the stops when you have tons of money invested in a miserable product that's turned a profit only because it was the only game in town. Shutting down Howard Stern and the other satellite refugees doesn't address the fact that listeners don't appreciate being assaulted by twenty-plus minutes of commericals and brain-dead DJs every hour, but you do what you can.

It's a loser in court, of course, but that doesn't mean a lot of lawyers and lobbyists can't get rich kicking it around congress and the FCC first. Even if the sat radio folks get pummeled in the early rounds by the well-financed FM trade groups and right-wing decency groups, though, other folks with dogs in the fight--like, say, the extremely well-financed cable television industry--won't let this get very far before they squash it.



Weekend Diversion

LA Kobes at 7-6. Dropped one to Sacramento on Friday, despite Kobe Bryant's 40 points and another two from Kobe "Flop" Divac. Change the name of the opposing team and we can run this one nearly every week through April.

I used to enjoy this game. Now thinking about the NBA is too much like thinking about politics.

A year after his Thanksgiving in Baghdad, Bush phones it in

(Reuters) - President Bush made Thanksgiving Day calls from his Texas ranch to U.S. troops abroad on Thursday, a year after he made a secret trip to spend the holiday with soldiers in Iraq.
"The president wanted to express his gratitude for their service and sacrifice and to wish them a happy Thanksgiving," said White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan.


Shrub is going to be phoning in lots of things now that the election is behind him. Especially the compassion stuff.

Man says fish stick has Jesus' face

If the Virgin Mary on grilled cheese went for 28 large, the mind boggles at the prospects for Jesus on a fish stick.

Who knows where this will all lead -- the Ten Commandments in a bowl of Alpha Bits?

No ebay auction yet, as far as I can tell.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Stephen Roach drinks the Kool-aid

Here's Mr. Roach, chief economist at Morgan Stanley, discussing the falling dollar today in his NY Times Op-Ed piece "When Weakness Is a Strength":

"Suddenly all eyes are on a weakening dollar. In recent days, the American currency has fallen against the euro, the yen and most other currencies around the world. The renminbi is a notable exception; China has kept its currency firmly pegged to the dollar for a decade.

The fall of the dollar is not a surprise. It is the logical outgrowth of an unbalanced world economy, and America's gaping current account deficit - the difference between foreign trade and investment in the United States and American trade and investment abroad - is just the most visible manifestation of these imbalances. The deficit ran at a record annual rate of $665 billion, or 5.7 percent of gross domestic product, in the second quarter of 2004.

While a decline in the dollar is not a cure-all for what ails the world, it should go a long way toward bringing about a sorely needed rebalancing. With a weaker dollar, economic and even political tensions among nations would be relieved, helping to promote more sustainable growth in the global economy.
...

America's consumption binge has its mirror image in excess savings elsewhere in the world - especially in Asia and Europe. For now, America draws freely on this reservoir, absorbing about 80 percent of the world's surplus savings. Just as the United States has moved production and labor offshore in recent years, it is now outsourcing its savings.

This is a dangerous arrangement. The day could come when foreign investors demand better terms for financing America's spending spree (and savings shortfall). That is the day the dollar will collapse, interest rates will soar and the stock market will plunge. In such a crisis, a United States recession would be a near certainty. And the rest of an America-centric world would be quick to follow.

The only way to avoid this unhappy future is for the world's major central banks to carefully manage a gradual but significant depreciation of the dollar over the next several years. America, and the world, would gain in several ways.

...

First, there would be a gradual rise in interest rates in the United States - compensating foreign investors for financing the biggest debtor in the world. That would suppress growth in those sectors of the American economy that are most sensitive to interest rates, like housing, consumer durables like cars and appliances, and business capital spending. The result: a higher domestic savings rate and a reduced need for foreign capital - a classic current-account adjustment.


Second, when the dollar falls, other currencies rise. So far, the euro has borne a disproportionate share of the change. That puts increased pressure on Asian nations - including China - to share in the adjustment by allowing their currencies to strengthen. Most currencies in Asia are now rising, but the renminbi has remained conspicuously unmoved.

Third, as the currencies of Asia and Europe strengthen, their exports will become less attractive to American consumers. This will force Asia and Europe to work to stimulate domestic demand to compensate - resulting in a reduction of both excess savings and current-account surpluses. This is easier said than done, especially since it may require painful structural reforms, like a loosening of domestic labor markets, to unshackle internal demand.

Fourth, a weaker dollar might defuse global trade tensions. Dollar depreciation will support American exports, and higher interest rates should slow domestic demand and reduce imports. That means the United States trade deficit should narrow - tempering protectionist risks. And with Asian countries allowing their currencies to fluctuate, Europe gets some relief and may be less tempted to resort to protectionist remedies.

What's certain is that a lopsided world needs to be put back into balance. The dollar is the world's most widely used currency, but its fall affects more than just foreign-exchange rates. A weakening dollar is an encouraging sign that the world's relative price structure - essentially the value of one economy versus another - is becoming more sensible. If the world can manage the dollar's decline wisely, there is more reason for hope than despair."


Roach's piece certainly accentuates the potential upside of a weak dollar, but it's not particularly convincing. For the sake of discussion, let's set aside the possibility that in calling for a gradual weakening of the dollar in the first place, he's effectively arguing we slow down the big honking snowball that's already steaming down the side of the mountain.

Rising interest rates will almost certainly slow consumer spending, but it's not a sure bet that they will increase savings. This is because many Americans have already purchased those big ticket items to which he refers (homes, cars) using means with adjustable interest rates such as ARMs and credit cards. Buying in these sectors has already slowed to some extent, and any increases in interest rates are going to pinch a lot of people who bought over their heads because of favorable rates. We can leave the discussion of how savings have been negatively affected by increases in consumers' health care costs (premiums, deductibles, copays) and education costs for another day.

The Chinese are not going to allow their currency to strengthen v. the dollar as long as keeping it pegged to USD continues to work to their advantage. As John Makin wrote for the AEI as early as last fall,

"China, however, poses a major problem as the U.S. pushes for a weaker dollar. Given that the Chinese yuan is pegged to the U.S. dollar, a weaker dollar only enhances China's already substantial competitive advantage in global markets, especially in Asia. "

It's also not clear how letting the dollar slide and putting pressure on the rest of the world to go through "painful structural reforms" while the U.S. runs up record-beating deficits is going to ease international pressures of any sort. In case Roach hasn't noticed, a good portion of the developed world is pretty pissed with the Boy King's "My Way or the Highway" approach to foriegn policy, and they probably aren't interested in hearing any advice he has to offer about how they can mend their ailing economies.

But the most intriguing aspect of Roach's piece is how it seems to ignore the appraisal of the U.S. economy offered last week by an economist named, um, Stephen Roach:

"Stephen Roach, the chief economist at investment banking giant Morgan Stanley, has a public reputation for being bearish.

But you should hear what he's saying in private.

Roach met select groups of fund managers downtown last week, including a group at Fidelity.

His prediction: America has no better than a 10 percent chance of avoiding economic 'armageddon.'


Roach sees a 30 percent chance of a slump soon and a 60 percent chance that 'we'll muddle through for a while and delay the eventual armageddon.'

The chance we'll get through OK: one in 10. Maybe.


In a nutshell, Roach's argument is that America's record trade deficit means the dollar will keep falling. To keep foreigners buying T-bills and prevent a resulting rise in inflation, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan will be forced to raise interest rates further and faster than he wants.

The result: U.S. consumers, who are in debt up to their eyeballs, will get pounded.

...

Roach marshalled alarming facts to support his argument.


To finance its current account deficit with the rest of the world, he said, America has to import $2.6 billion in cash. Every working day.

That is an amazing 80 percent of the entire world's net savings.

Sustainable? Hardly.

Meanwhile, he notes that household debt is at record levels.

Twenty years ago the total debt of U.S. households was equal to half the size of the economy.

Today the figure is 85 percent.


Nearly half of new mortgage borrowing is at flexible interest rates, leaving borrowers much more vulnerable to rate hikes.

Americans are already spending a record share of disposable income paying their interest bills. And interest rates haven't even risen much yet."


Study: Cigarettes Cost Society $40 a Pack

In Econ 101, there was a short footnote that talked about the concept of "externalities." This is the concept that the price of a product or service does not always reflect all of its costs. The trivial example used is the case of a beekeeper next to an apple orchard. The price of apples does not include the cost of pollination, which the orchard gets for free; the price of honey does not include the cost of the pollen the bees pilfer from the apple trees.

That one is trivial, in part because positive externalities are as rare as hen's teeth. Negative externalities are things like pollution, and they are everywhere.

Classical economics spends little time talking about externalities. Not because they are unimportant, mind you -- they are hugely important. Economists ignore them for two reasons -- first, because they are difficult; calculating the true cost of, say, the price of a gallon of gas, is very complicated, and requires wading into a lot of discussions that economists find messy. The other reason is that economists don't like where this line of thinking takes them, because a market economy frankly does a piss-poor job of dealing with them, and getting serious about externalities requires you to acknowledge that there are some things you need a strong government to do -- and market economists would rather eat worms.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Boilingmad.Blogspot.com: The Enlightenment of the Founding Fathers

On this day of giving thanks, it is worth reflecting on the kind of thanks our founding fathers might have given, and to whom they would have given them. As previously discussed, the Right Reverend Antonin Scalia would have us believe that those good 'ol boys were early members of Jerry Falwell's flock. So the quotes gathered at boilingmad would give him pause, were he capable of honest thought on such matters. Two samples:


"The question before the human race is, whether the God of nature shall govern the world by his own laws, or whether priests and kings shall rule it by fictitious miracles?"
-John Adams, letter to Thomas Jefferson, June 20, 1815

"The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter." -Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams, April 11, 1823


There you have it: two founding fathers, both elected President. If their heresies caused any political difficulties 200 years ago, I never heard about it. Yet both would be precluded from running for dogcatcher today by their blasphemy.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Vietnam veteran, 53, called to active duty

More than three decades after he was last in combat, a Vietnam veteran has been called to active duty in Iraq.

Paul Dunlap, 53, of Pleasant Unity, will leave for Fort Bliss, Texas, on Monday after being called up as part of Operation Dragoon.

Dunlap, a first sergeant in the Army National Guard Company C 28th Signal Battalion out of Torrance, Westmoreland County, hasn't been in combat since he was a 19-year-old Marine and served 11 months in Vietnam from 1970 to 1971.


Did you think it was strange that we were fighting the Viet Nam War again during the recent political season? Did you think it was odd that there were rumors of a draft in certain circles?

Well, now we are drafting Viet Nam vets to fight a whole new Viet Nam. Can call-ups of Korean War vets be far behind?

No need to face mall madness

Miss Poppy has all your holiday shopping needs covered quite nicely, thank you.


Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Afghan Opium Cultivation Reaches Record High-UN

Afghanistan's opium cultivation jumped 64 percent to a record 324,000 acres this year and drug exports now account for more than 60 percent of the economy, the United Nations drugs office said Thursday.

"This year Afghanistan has established a double record -- the highest drug cultivation in the country's history, and the largest in the world," Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, told a news briefing.

Opium, the raw material for heroin, was grown in all Afghanistan's 32 provinces this year. Ten percent of the population, or 2.3 million people, helped farm it because grinding poverty made it more attractive than other crops.

"Cultivation has spread ... making narcotics the main engine of economic growth and the strongest bond among previously quarrelsome peoples," Costa said. "Valued at $2.8 billion, the opium economy is now equivalent to over 60 percent of Afghanistan's 2003 gross domestic product."


We can be very proud of the thriving market economy we have created in Afghanistan. And what with thousands of Americans getting wounded in Iraq, we are doing our part to help stimulate demand for their goods.

$1.31 and rising

The value of a Euro against a good old American greenback,that is:

"TOKYO (Reuters) - The dollar stayed just above a record low against the euro on Wednesday, pressured by news that Russia may consider boosting the share of euros in its $100 billion-plus foreign currency reserves.

A recent rebound in oil prices also prompted concern about the U.S. growth outlook, burdening the dollar already reeling from a market view that Washington may want the dollar to fall to help cap the huge U.S. current account deficit.

The Russia development triggered fresh dollar selling on Wednesday, sending the currency to an all-time low against the euro, a nine-year trough versus the Swiss franc and a four-month low versus the British pound.
...

The first deputy chairman of the Russian central bank, Alexei Ulyukayev, admitted in a press conference on Wednesday that the bank was reviewing its forex reserves 'with the highest priority.'

Expectations that the central bank could further increase the share of euros in its reserves, already at 25-30 percent compared with 10 percent two years ago, helped the euro against the dollar.

It also prompted renewed speculation that other nations could do the same in light of the dollar's decline in the past few years and concerns about the U.S. current account deficit."

It wouldn't serve their purposes to do so just now, but let's hope the Chinese and Japanese don't feel any similar urges to start dumping dollars. They're sitting on roughly five times what Russia has in USD.



U.S. Threatens Punitive Steps Over Ukraine Election

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Monday threatened to review its relationship with Ukraine and to take punitive steps if the Ukrainian government fails to investigate allegations of fraud and abuse in its presidential election.
...
"The United States is deeply concerned over the elections in Ukraine," State Department spokesman Adam Ereli told reporters. "We call on the Ukrainian authorities to curb additional abuse and fraud, to uphold its international commitments to democracy and human rights and to act to ensure an outcome that reflects the will of the Ukrainian people.

"Should, in the final analysis, this election prove to be fundamentally flawed and tarnished, we would certainly need to review our relations with the Ukraine and consider further steps against individuals who had engaged in fraud," he added

Ironic commentary seems utterly superfluous here.

Virgin Mary In Grilled Cheese Final

The auction ended last night. It went for for a mere $28,000. The winner? According to AP, GoldenPalace.com, an online casino. A quick visit there confirms the story. You can even watch a video

The file is called "grilled mary."

Religious icons. Gambling. Pasteurized imitation cheese food products. Only in America.

Federalism my ass

An anti-abortion provision with potentially widespread impact will remain intact as part of the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Bill for 2005, in spite of efforts by pro-choice Senators to block the measure. President Bush is expected to sign the omnibus spending bill.

On Friday, nine female Senators, including Olympia Snowe (R-ME), sent a letter to chair of the Appropriations Committee Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK), requesting that the language of the clause be changed and protesting the fact that the Federal Refusal Clause had not been discussed in committee, nor had it been put to a vote on the Senate floor. According to the women Senators, the clause, sponsored by Rep. Dave Weldon (R-FL), would “allow a broad range of health-care companies refuse to comply with federal, state, and local laws and regulations pertaining to abortion services. Should this provision become law, federal, state, or local governments may no longer require any institutional or individual health-care provider to provide, pay for, or refer abortion services. This will mean that medical providers in hospitals and clinics across the country will likely be victims of demonstrations and intimidation as this provisions allows that they be forbidden from providing abortion care to women who need it, and also to deny women referrals to another provider.”


Those who speak of federalism as the antidote to a federal government run amok have missed an essential point: using the logic of the Right against them won't be effective if they see themselves as immune from the constraints of logic. So making a states' rights argument in support of the right to choose will be ineffective. Appealing to the tooth fairy might do better.

Newsday.com: Scalia says religion infuses U.S. government and history

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said Monday that a religion-neutral government does not fit with an America that reflects belief in God in everything from its money to its military.

"I suggest that our jurisprudence should comport with our actions," Scalia told an audience attending an interfaith conference on religious freedom at Manhattan's Shearith Israel synagogue.
...An "originalist," Scalia believes in following the Constitution as written by the Founding Fathers, rather than interpreting it to reflect the changing times.

"Our Constitution does not morph," he said Monday, deadpanning, "As I've often said, I am an originalist, I am a textualist, but I am not a nut."

Earlier this year, Scalia cast one of two dissenting votes in a 7-2 Supreme Court ruling that states may deny taxpayer-funded scholarships to divinity students.

At the time, Scalia wrote: "Let there be no doubt: This case is about discrimination against a religious minority."


I saw Scalia speak several years before he became a Supreme. His views on the way our government is supposed to work scared the bejeezus out of me. He was a hard-core majoritarian -- in other words, whatever the majority wants, it should get. The whole concept of the Constitution as a bulwark against the power of government was utterly foreign to him. And that was definitely NOT the intent of the framers.

And yeah, he is a nut.

General J.C. Christian, where are you?

Rifle raffle to raise funds for school security

"LAMPASAS - Hoping to raise enough money to fence in a portion of a school in this Hill Country town, a local group is holding a raffle featuring a deer rifle.

'We're moms using guns as tools to protect our kids,' said Marta Ellison, a member of the Hanna Springs Intermediate School Parent-Teacher-Student Organization and part of the trio that put the raffle together. They've set out to raise the $15,000 or so.

'Bake sales are a thing of the past,' she said.

Lampasas school Superintendent Carlton Tucker said he's gotten only one comment about the propriety of using guns to raise money for a school project.

'I'm not aware of any widespread concerns,' Tucker told The Dallas Morning News. 'It appears to me to be generally supported. And knowing our PTSOs, they think long and hard about any project and would never do anything adverse to the best interest of our children.'

Last year, students at the Hanna Springs Intermediate School campus -- a third- through sixth-grade school -- were jogging around the hilltop campus for physical education class when a registered sex offender stopped one girl and began talking to her. A teacher recognized the man and shooed him away."

Apparently, the parents are betting that the winner will be a psychotic hunter rather than a pedophile with a grudge.

The Emperor has no capital

A Truly Lame Duck

"The story of the 2004 intelligence reform bill just keeps getting sadder and sadder. House Republicans did grievous enough harm to this vital measure during the campaign. But then, pumped up with post-election hubris, they went even further in the lame-duck session of Congress and gave us all a depressing lesson in how narrow-minded politics and weak leadership can undermine what should have been a fairly easy triumph for bipartisanship.

Despite endless - and in some cases wrongheaded - compromises among Republican and Democratic negotiators, it proved impossible to make the reform plan weak enough to satisfy a core of right-wing House Republicans and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Now all hope for a decent piece of legislation seems lost.
...

We take Mr. Bush at his word when he says he lobbied hard to get the bill through. But if that's the case, his lieutenants had a peculiar way of respecting the election mandate that they keep insisting he's won.
...

The White House said the president contacted both Mr. Hunter and Mr. Sensenbrenner to urge them to compromise. The evidence suggests that either Mr. Bush was less than forceful in his pleas or the two veteran Republicans have a stunning lack of respect for the wishes of their newly re-elected chief executive. Mr. Hunter at one point rejected language written by Vice President Dick Cheney's lawyer. Mr. Sensenbrenner rejected a section of the bill even though it contained his own language.

Mr. Bush campaigned on the idea that he is the man to handle the aftermath of 9/11. But if he could not deliver a sound bill with the Democrats, most Republicans, the entire 9/11 commission, the 9/11 families and a lot of ordinary Americans backing him up, what will happen on something actually hard?"



Monday, November 22, 2004

Sixth Iraq oil well set ablaze by saboteurs

From AFP (French)Saboteurs set ablaze another well in Iraq's northern oilfields overnight, bringing to six the number firefighters are trying to extinguish in the region, security guards said.


But U.S. news sources won't report it, so it isn't happening.

Poll: Creationism Trumps Evolution

(CBS) Americans do not believe that humans evolved, and the vast majority says that even if they evolved, God guided the process. Just 13 percent say that God was not involved. But most would not substitute the teaching of creationism for the teaching of evolution in public schools.

The rejection of evolution by mainstream America isn't news, course. But what is interesting here is the fact that these self-proclaimed believers don't want the truth as they see it taught in school. That is a remarkable bit of cognitive dissonance. I cannot imagine saying, "I think evolution is supported by an overwhelming mountain of evidence, but I think my kids would be better off if you taught them a different theory based on a story written thousands of years ago and contradicted by every bit of scientific research accumulated over the last 500 years or so."

George W. Bush: Our leader --Clear Channel political public service billboard

Raw Story reports that those guardians of liberty at Clear Channel have put their money behind our Maximum Leader by plastering his face on a billboard with the caption "Our Leader."

I guess that obviates the need for scrutiny or a recount in FL and OH, doesn't it?

Justice Dept. Defends Civil Rights Record

Guardian Unlimited | World Latest | Justice Dept. Defends Civil Rights Record

via the Guardian:
WASHINGTON (AP) - The Justice Department on Monday defended its record of prosecuting criminal civil rights cases after an independent study concluded the number of prosecutions had dropped significantly under President Bush.

The analysis by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University found that the number of criminal civil rights defendants prosecuted had dropped from 159 in 1999 to 84 last year.

After initially declining comment on the study, the Justice Department said Monday the research was ``incorrect'' and the true number of defendants prosecuted last year was 151, actually higher than the 138 it said were prosecuted in 1999.

``This administration believes in and has vigorously enforced the criminal civil rights laws,'' said Justice Department spokesman Eric Holland.

David Burnham, a co-author of the study at TRAC, said the research was based entirely on numbers provided under Freedom of Information Act requests by the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys, a part of the Justice Department.

The same information, Burnham said, is used in the department's reports to Congress and to investigative agencies such as the Government Accountability Office. It was backed up, he said, by similar downward trends in civil rights enforcement TRAC found in records kept by federal courts.

The Justice Department also said TRAC was mistaken in saying it had received about 12,000 civil rights complaints each year, including 2003. The number of complaints last year was about 9,500, officials said.

However, the Justice Department's own Internet site on Monday continued to say it receives ``approximately 12,000 criminal civil rights complaints annually.''

Bush Cuts Off News Conference in Columbia

"President Bush (news - web sites)'s distaste for news conferences isn't limited to his own backyard.

After he and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe answered four questions here Monday, Bush sought to end the session by saying, 'Thank you very much.'


Maybe he was just eager to get to his Texas ranch, where he planned to spend the Thanksgiving holiday. Or, maybe he just can't keep his dislike for question-and-answer sessions buttoned up abroad any more than he can at home."


Or, maybe he had an appointment to pick up a few ounces of duty-free souvenirs before he went home.

This should be interesting

Hawks push deep cuts in forces in Iraq

"A growing number of national security specialists who supported the toppling of Saddam Hussein are moving to a position unthinkable even a few months ago: that the large US military presence is impeding stability as much as contributing to it and that the United States should begin major reductions in troops beginning early next year.
...

Those arguing for immediate troop reductions include key Pentagon advisers, prominent neoconservatives, and some of the fiercest supporters of the Iraq invasion among Washington's policy elite.

The core of their arguments is that even as the US-led coalition goes on the offensive against the insurgency, the United States, by its very presence, is stimulating the resistance.

...

Even leading war supporters such as Max Boot, an influential neoconservative thinker derided by critics as one of those who believe the United States must stick it out for an undetermined amount of time, contends that the US presence is beginning to threaten long-term goals.

'This is turning out to be a lot harder than anyone expected -- and harder than it needed to be,' Boot said last week."


Up to 50,000 more US troops needed in Iraq: Senator McCain

"Arizona senator John McCain told NBC television that as many as 50,000 more US soldiers will have to be sent to Iraq.

'We still need more troops. We still need more people there,' US Senator John McCain told NBC television Sunday.

When asked how many additional forces would have to be deployed, the maverick Republican senator answered 'I would say at least 40,000 or 50,000 more,' adding that it will likely also be necessary to increase the size of the army and the marine corps.

'I believe those reports of those young Marines that said, 'Look unless we keep a significant presence here, (the insurgents) are going to filter back in', McCain said, but acknowledging that finding additional manpower 'is an enormous strain.' "

Shorter neocons: "We're bored and don't give a shit about the mess we're leaving. Besides, we need the bodies for our next Adventure in World Domination."

Shorter McCain: "I don't have a chance in '08 if we fuck this up."


Next up: Iran

James Fallows has a timely and sobering piece discussing U.S. military options in Iran in the December issue of The Atlantic (subscription only). The article describes the process and outcome of a policy-level war game sponsored by the magazine. Participants, including Sam Gardiner, David Kay, Ken Pollack and Reuel Marc Gericht, spent three hours exploring the viability of various military interventions that the U.S. might pursue to keep Iran from becoming a nuclear state. The panelists were given two presumed conditions to guide their discussion: (1) Iran’s refusal to meet inspection demands and (2) the existence of tentative evidence indicating that Iran will have a deliverable nuclear device in roughly three years. As it turns out, the variables involved in making decisions about Iran make Iraq look like, well, a cakewalk.

Complications making a limited set of pre-emptive strike against nuclear sites in Iran difficult include (1) the multiplicity of known Irani facilities involved in the development of a nuclear weapon, (2) keeping Israel on the same page throughout the process, (3) Iran’s probable willingness to prevent another Osirak-type strike by launching a pre-emptive attack on Israel or by stirring up anti-American sentiment among Shiites in Iraq, (4) the certainty of retaliatory steps following an attack, and (5) an awareness that precision strikes would just slow down Iran’s progress toward becoming a nuclear state, and make them that much more willing to use nukes when the finally do develop them.

The principal complications undermining a regime-change strategy include (1) Iran’s size, both in terms of real estate and population, (2) the shortage of available troops to do the job (3) the enormous domestic and international objections that would follow, and (4) the likelihood that CENTCOM would present the President with a series of attack options that look eerily like the plans that worked so brilliantly in Iraq (turns out the military playbook is actually pretty thin, and they “don’t do stabilization”).

The panel concludes that there really aren’t any viable military options available to keep Iran from going nuclear. Of course, as one participant noted, “You can never assume that just because a government knows something is unviable, it won’t go ahead and do it.” Especially our government.

Worth a read.

Happy happy fun

Istook is the charming gent who slipped the right to pull your IRS file into the recent spending bill. This puts it all in context. Nice crowd he runs with.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Bush's slapdown for Blair on climate change

News
President Bush has reprimanded Tony Blair for sounding the alarm over global warming and pressing for international action to combat it, senior Washington sources say.
Bad doggie! Bad, bad doggie.

I'm sure this will be a real shot in the arm for Blair in his looming impeachment proceedings.

Schwarzenegger Fakes Hydrogen Hum Job

The AP ran a great story about California's smoke-and-mirrors Governator, though their headline -- AP Wire | 11/17/2004 | Schwarzenegger Has Knack for Stagecraft-- is a bit of a joke.

The moment seemed to capture perfectly Arnold Schwarzenegger's pledge to make hydrogen a viable fuel source for California's cars and trucks. The tanned and smiling governor parked a hydrogen-powered Hummer - a specially made version of his signature vehicle - and hopped out to slide a hydrogen fuel station's nozzle into the gas tank.

But the moment was all about appearances.

No fuel actually came out of the pump. The Hummer's builders would later acknowledge that it could only travel 50 miles between refueling. And despite the day's alternative-fuel theme, Schwarzenegger left in a gas-powered SUV that gets about 15 miles to the gallon.


Now we know what he has in common with Team Bush -- their integrity and grounding in reality.

States' rights: not just for dixiecrats anymore

Jim Holt argues in today's NY Times Magazine that the Blues may not have to secede or move to Canada:

"When George W. Bush was re-elected, people in some of the bluer states were so angry and sad that they talked of moving to Canada or seceding from the Union. How else, they felt, could they escape the intensifying red-state control of Washington? But there is a less drastic survival strategy available to liberals in the coastal and Great Lakes states, one that involves neither emigration nor civil war. It is based on the venerable doctrine of states' rights. And the oddity is that President Bush himself is determined to give the blue states a rather generous gift to help it succeed.

[The] doctrine of states' rights has had a varied career. But why resurrect it today? The reason is simple. There are big differences among the states, as the last election showed -- differences in their understanding of tolerance, in their attitude toward the role of religion in public life, in the value they place on education, conservation and scientific research. The more sovereignty each state has, the better it can pursue policies that are appropriate to the needs and preferences of its people.
...

One of the most striking differences among states is in their levels of wealth. Liberals tend to live in more economically productive states than conservatives. The top five states in per capita personal income (Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maryland and New York) all went to Kerry; the bottom five (Utah, New Mexico, West Virginia, Arkansas and Mississippi) all went to Bush. Since the blue states are generally richer than the red states, they must bear a greater portion of the federal tax burden. Most of them pay more to Washington than they receive, whereas most of the red states receive more than they pay. Some liberals in blue states must wonder exactly what they get in return for subsidizing the heartlanders, who are said to resent them.

Here is where President Bush is their friend. According to a recent Brookings Institution analysis, as much as two-thirds of the benefits from the income tax cuts he pushed through in his first term go to taxpayers making more than $100,000 a year. These well-off Americans tend to be concentrated around New York City, Boston, Seattle, San Francisco and other liberal enclaves. By contrast, relatively few of the benefits from the Bush tax cuts go to the Southern and Prairie states, where low-income working families with children are more the norm. At present, the Bush tax cuts are scheduled to expire by 2010. If the president succeeds in making them permanent, as he has vowed to do, it will mean lasting relief for the blue states. The money they had been sending to the red states could then be spent locally, according to their own liberal values -- say, on public schools (where they already spend more per pupil than the red states) or stem-cell research.

The more conservatives succeed in reducing the size and scope of the federal government, the more fiscal freedom the blue states will have to pursue their own idea of a just society.
"

Let me get this right. If the cons succeed in "starving the beast," I don't have to subsidize archaic farm subsidies and all the other pocket-picking programs the red states have been foisting off on the blues? And I get to live in a state where a well-financed government implements policies and programs that are in tune with my own values? Works for me. Maybe I've been all wrong about those guys.

Falwell's school joins others in teaching law to their flocks

The LA Times viaThe Smirking Chimp

Want to see the next step in the takeover of secular society by th religious right? Welcome to the new law school at Liberty University, a Baptist college founded in 1971 by the Rev. Jerry Falwell. It is small so far, but if they can re-write science, the law should be a piece of cake.

...by teaching law from a Christian perspective, Falwell hopes to train a cadre of Christian lawyers to fight what he sees as the growing secularization of public life across the country.

And the school plans to offer select students hands-on experience with a law firm that takes on constitutional issues. That would occur when Liberty Counsel, a legal organization in Orlando, Fla., that focuses on cases involving religion and traditional values, moves its legislative arm to the campus.

Best known for establishing in 1979 the Moral Majority, one of the first evangelical efforts to affect political discourse, Falwell sees the law school as an extension of his mission.

"We certainly are training Christian activists," Falwell, who this month announced the creation of a 21st century version of the Moral Majority that aims to re-energize religious conservatives, said in an interview last week. "We're turning their attention to understand the Bible is the infallible word of God, that the American Constitution is a sacred document and that the Christian worldview is their matrix of service."


"Re-engergize?" I guess flagging energy is a real problem when you are winning a blow-out.

Remember Valerie Plame?

Good summary of the absurdity of the government's handling of the whole sordid mess. But of course the hounding of reporters other than Robert Novak (the only so-called reporter willing to be the Administration's bitch on this one) is not incompetent: it is part of the same mailicious intent that created the leak in the first place. The junta has no interest in punishing THESE leakers -- they want to intimidate anyone who dares to leak or publish non-sanctioned disclosures. They know this is important given the mass exodus of competence and principle in the rolling putsch at State, Langlely and who knows where else. They need to put the fear into all who might be tempted to sing.

Militant groups control 60 percent of Fallujah: witnesses

:: Xinhuanet - English ::

This report comes form a questionable source -- but then again, so does everyhting we hear from the US media.

I expected the insurgents to cede Fallujah for now, and keep playing whack-a-mole with the U.S. military by popping up in a different city every week or so. This story, if true, suggest that they are either a stronger or a lot dumber than expected.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Church air is bad for your health, new study

To be snarky, or not be....

Violence Breaks Out All Over Baghdad

Baghdad exploded in violence Saturday, as insurgents attacked a U.S. patrol and a police station, assassinated four government employees and detonated several bombs. One American soldier was killed and nine were wounded during clashes that also left three Iraqi troops and a police officer dead.
...
The spasm of violence came a day after Iraqi forces backed by U.S. soldiers raided the Abu Hanifa mosque — one of the country's most important Sunni mosques — as worshippers were leaving after Friday prayers in the Azamiyah neighborhood.


The operation appeared to be part of a government crackdown on militant clerics opposed to the U.S.-led attack on Fallujah. Witnesses said at least three people were killed and 40 others arrested.

Congregants at the Abu Hanifa mosque said they heard explosions inside the building, apparently from stun grenades. Later, a reporter saw a computer and books, including a Quran, scattered on the floor of the imam's office near overturned furniture. U.S. soldiers were seen inside the mosque compound.

U.S. and Iraqi forces launched an offensive that they say has secured most of Fallujah, hoping to tame the insurgents' strongest bastion ahead of January elections. But many militants are believed to have fled the city to continue attacks elsewhere — and the operation risks alienating Iraq's Sunni Arab minority, whose participation in elections is seen as key to legitimacy.

Insurgents have carried out a wave of violence across Iraq coinciding with the Fallujah offensive. Mosul — Iraq's third-largest city with more than a million residents about 225 miles north of Baghdad — has been a center of violence.



At least we controll Fallujah. Today.

weekend distraction

Yeah, so there were some questionable high-sticking calls in Auburn Hills last night, and Ron Artest will have to spend part of the next game in the penalty box. Welcome to the East.

Meanwhile, in the futility league, the Los Angeles Kobes have moved slideways to a stellar 5-5 record. Last night head Kobe heaved the rock 33 times en route to a 29 point night and a loss to the Suns. Nothing says "me me me me" like more shots than points.

A .500 record in the west was not good enough to make the 2nd season last year. So maybe they will end up a lottery team this year. You go, girl.

This is guilt-free rubbernecking for me.

Round one

Time to get to work, folks:

Negotiators Add Abortion Clause to Spending Bill

"House and Senate negotiators have tucked a potentially far-reaching anti-abortion provision into a $388 billion must-pass spending bill, complicating plans for Congress to wrap up its business and adjourn for the year.

The provision may be an early indication of the growing political muscle of social conservatives who provided crucial support for Republican candidates, including President Bush, in the election.

House officials said Saturday morning that the final details of the spending measure were worked out before midnight and that the bill was filed for the House vote on Saturday.

The abortion language would bar federal, state and local agencies from withholding taxpayer money from health care providers that refuse to provide or pay for abortions or refuse to offer abortion counseling or referrals. Current federal law, aimed at protecting Roman Catholic doctors, provides such 'conscience protection' to doctors who do not want to undergo abortion training. The new language would expand that protection to all health care providers, including hospitals, doctors, clinics and insurers.

'It's something we've had a longstanding interest in,' said Douglas Johnson, a spokesman for the National Right to Life Committee. He added, 'This is in response to an orchestrated campaign by pro-abortion groups across the country to use government agencies to coerce health care providers to participate in abortions.'


The provision could affect millions of American women, according to Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California, who warned Friday that she would use procedural tactics to slow Senate business to a crawl if the language was not altered.

...

Ms. Boxer said that she complained to Senator Ted Stevens, the Alaska Republican who is the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, but that he told her that House Republican leaders insisted that the provision, which was approved by the House in July but never came to the Senate for a vote, be included in the measure.

'He said, 'Senator, they want it in, and it's going in,' 'Ms. Boxer recalled.
...

Some lawmakers and Congressional aides interpreted the House leaders' insistence as reflection of the new political strength of the anti-abortion movement and of Christian conservatives, who played an important role in re-electing Mr. Bush this month.

'They are catering to their right wing doing this,' said Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa. 'It doesn't make it right. I think this is the first step.'


Mr. Harkin said he intended to try to force a vote next year on support for upholding the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, which legalized abortion. 'I think it is time the women of America understand what is happening here,' he said. "

This is a slick continuation of the radical right's strategy of gradually eroding women's rights with incremental legislation that has a superficial aura of reasonableness. As I commented elsewhere, I think health care providers' rights are a legitimate issue in this debate, and the Repubs will frame any efforts to kill the provision as an effort by the Democrats to impose their morality on others.

To my mind, Harkin's strategy is more effective--let's get the whole thing on the table all at once. But his tactic won't work; they'll never let a resolution upholding Roe v. Wade get to the floor. Instead, why not repeatedly dare the Repubs to act on their sanctimonious campaign posture by introducing a bill stating that life begins at conception, and abortion is murder? They won't do that either, but their failure to act will be more conspicuous and more effective in driving a wedge between the various Republican constituencies.

Track down contact numbers/addresses for your senator here and your congressperson here.


Friday, November 19, 2004

These are brilliant

Bush to California: Drop Dead, Part 12

Calif. to Sue Over Sierra Nevada Logging Expansion

On Thursday, the head of the Department of Agriculture's Forest Service affirmed a plan announced in January that would allow four times more wood to be harvested from the Sierra Nevada than in 2001. The approval to permit logging of 700,000 acres over the next 20 years was described as a move to curb wildfires.

No wilderness, no wildfires. Simple, really.

Wrist Best Spot for Angioplasty in Elderly

Gee, I always thought the heart was the best place to do an angioplasty, but who am I to say?

Department of Really Duh

Treasury Warns of Lack of Faith in Tax Code

"Many Americans do not believe the U.S. tax code is fair, and efforts to overhaul the system in the Bush administration's second term should help improve compliance, Deputy Treasury Secretary Samuel Bodman said on Thursday.

Bodman, the second-in-command at the Treasury Department, said the tax system was widely perceived as too complicated and too easily manipulated.

'Too many people perceive the tax system as unfair -- believing that their neighbors are able to reduce their taxes through a maze of loopholes and clever tax planning,'Bodman said in prepared remarks for delivery at a Tax Foundation conference in Washington."


Jeebus, where would anyone get a crazy idea like that? Wait, wait....I know. Yeah. The Boy King spent the campaign season hammering the point home to the American public:

"When they say, 'tax the rich,' those are the folks who have got the accountants to see to it they don't pay tax, so guess who gets stuck with the bill? You're going to get stuck with the bill." (Columbus, Ohio, 8/5/04)

Sadly, it is unlikely that any of the reforms under consideration involve the administration's mass resignation.


House GOP Leader DeLay Delights in Rebuke of Accuser

A Texas congressman who brought a successful ethics complaint against House Majority Leader Tom Delay was himself rebuked by the ethics panel for violating the rules in the way he brought the complaint.

Delay, seizing on the committee's criticism on Friday, suggested that Rep. Chris Bell, a Texas Democrat, pay his legal expenses.


Tom Lehrer said that satire died the day Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace prize. It just got deader. With this crowd, it will have more deaths than Rasputin.

Sen. Introduces Bill to Protect Reporters

OK, so maybe satire isn't dead. Senator Dodd is just showing us how it is really done.

This one will pass right after the bill recognizing the ability of pigs to fly.

Motion to impeach Blair gets go-ahead

Since we are part of the same coalition, and we are so good at outsourcing, maybe we could ask the British to also impeach our leader while they are at it. Economies of scale and all.

Source of Powell's Iran intelligence under scrutiny - Nov 19, 2004

Deja vu: that strange feeling...

Source of Powell's Iran intelligence under scrutiny

Deja vu -- that strange feeling....

Virgin Mary In Grilled Cheese Update

The price is down to $3000. The auction ends next Monday.

At this rate, the price ought to be down to a loaf of Wonder and a 12-pack of Kraft Singles by then.

Department of Duh

Greenspan Says U.S. Deficits Pose a Risk

"The persistence of bloated U.S. trade deficits over time can pose a risk to the U.S. economy, which thus far has proven resilient, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan warned Friday. Policy-makers must not get lulled into a sense of complacency, he said.

The broadest measure of trade, called the current account deficit, swelled to an all-time high of $166.2 billion in the second quarter of this year, the most recent period for which this information is available.

`Current account imbalances, per se, need not be a problem, but cumulative deficits ... raise more complex issues,' Greenspan said in speech in Frankfurt, Germany. A copy of his remarks was distributed in Washington.

So far, foreigners are willing to lend the United States money to finance the current account imbalances, Greenspan pointed out. The worry, however, is that at some point foreigners might suddenly lose interest in holding dollar-denominated investments. That could cause foreigners to unload investments in U.S. stocks and bonds, sending their prices plunging and interest rates soaring.
...

President Bush says the best ways to handle the yawning trade deficits is to get other countries to remove trading barriers and open their markets to U.S. companies.

...

Reducing the U.S. federal budget deficit, Greenspan said, would be an important action to boost U.S. savings. Continued flexibility in the U.S. economy also has been important in the economy's ability to absorb and rebound from economic shocks, he said."


Of course, the Boy King is going to blame it on obstructive trading policies by other countries. That way, he doesn't have to confront the variables he can control, i.e., the obscene tax breaks for the wealthy and the borrow-and-spend policies that are driving up the deficit.

But no worries. If our currency goes the way of Charmin, we can just invade the EU and China. After all, we're an empire, aren't we?

House Ethics Panel Rebukes DeLay Accuser

The House ethics committee Thursday night turned the tables on Majority Leader Tom DeLay's accuser, rebuking Rep. Chris Bell (news, bio, voting record) for exaggerating misconduct allegations against the GOP leader.

While the complaint by Bell, D-Texas, led to an ethics report that admonished DeLay, Bell nonetheless violated a rule barring "innuendo, speculative assertions or conclusory statements," a committee letter said.

The committee's Republican chairman and senior Democrat used the four-page letter to Bell to warn lawmakers that making exaggerated allegations of wrongdoing could result in disciplinary action against the accuser.


I'm running out of ways to express outrage. Which is probably just as well, because we may be running out of room to express it.

Robert Parry on the gelding of the CIA



George W. Bush has been criticized for disdaining fact in favor of faith in his own instincts. But he is savvy about the dangers that information can present to his authority over the government and the American people.

That is why the first priority of his second term has been the elimination of the few government sources of information that could challenge the images he wants to project to the public. Bush doesn’t want the State Department or the Central Intelligence Agency portraying his Iraq and other foreign policies as abject failures or reckless adventures.

So, by attacking these remaining pockets of analytical resistance, Bush is moving to ensure that his administration can keep much of the U.S. population seeing a near-empty cup as almost entirely full, a concept known in the intelligence world as “perception management.”

...
In other words, conservative commentators were afraid that plainly accurate analyses by CIA officials represented a threat to Bush’s power and justified his exacting retribution against these out-of-step analysts. It seems that no matter how much power Bush and the Republicans amass, their media apologists always make them out to be the victims.

It’s also a misunderstanding of history to claim that the CIA exists to “serve the president.” While it may be true that the “operations directorate” was created as a secret paramilitary arm for the U.S. executive, the CIA’s analytical division was established to provide unvarnished information to both the president and other parts of the U.S. government, including Congress.

Even at the height of the Cold War in the 1950s and 1960s, the CIA’s analytical division took pride in telling presidents what they didn’t want to hear – such as debunking Eisenhower’s “bomber gap” or Kennedy’s “missile gap” or Johnson’s faith in the air war against North Vietnam.

Worth a read.

Media complicit in spreading false GOP smear of DeLay

Media complicit in spreading false GOP smear of ... [Media Matters for America]

See, now this is the stuff that keeps me awake at night. Rational analysis confirms that the "politically motivated" angle is false. But our media no longer engage in anything so jejune as analysis. They got the Porter Goss memo, too: they are supposed to support the boss. The Republicans say the looming indictment of Tom DeLay politcally motivated, and that's good enough for them.

If there is no feedback loop in the form of a reality check, there is no limit to what these thugs will say or do. And right now there is no feedback loop.

Your computers suck, too

From Reuters:

"Software maker Microsoft Corp. on Friday said it and computer maker Dell Inc. will supply software and services to the U.S. Air Force, in a deal valued at more than $500 million over 6 years.

Under the agreement, Microsoft will provide server software, maintenance and upgrade support, while Dell will supply more than 525,000 licenses for Microsoft desktop Windows and Office software.

The software pact, through Dell, consolidates 38 software license agreements previously established by the Air Force, the companies said, standardizing configurations of software used across global Air Force operations."


No surprises here. Michael Dell has been in the Boy King's pocket for quite some time now. Let's just hope he doesn't have any kids; buying a spot in the Texas Air National Guard is likely to be pretty expensive these days.

Gutless wonder update

Find out if your Republican House rep is a member of "Shays Handful" or if s/he is in Tom DeLay's pocket at The Daily DeLay. The list is necessarily incomplete, of course, because few of the spineless wonders who voted to relax the rules are admitting to it, but in the very least you can find out what kind of half-baked dodge or rationalization your rep is using to avoid coming clean.

(Via Josh Marshall at TPM, who is clearly taking great pleasure in shining as much light on this as he possibly can.)

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Take me now, Lord

That whirring noise you hear is the sound of every minimally-educated child developmental specialist on the planet rolling his or her eyes:

"HOUSTON (Reuters) - Camouflage was in and cross-dressing was out at a rural East Texas school district after a Christian legal group complained a long-standing school tradition of reversing social roles for a day would promote homosexuality.

Students in Spurger, Texas were encouraged by school officials to wear camouflage hunting gear to class on Wednesday after they called off their annual 'TWIRP Day' in which boys dressed as girls and vice versa.

The cross-dressing tradition began some years back as a kind of Sadie Hawkins Day where girls ask boys to go out on dates.

TWIRP stands for 'The Woman Is Requested To Pay.'

But Delana Davies, who has two children in the Spurger school, complained this year that the tradition could promote homosexuality and got the Liberty Legal Institute, a right-wing Christian legal group, to take up the cause.

'It might be fun today to dress up like a little girl -- kids think it's cute and things like that. And you start playing around with it and, like drugs, you do a little here and there (and) eventually it gets you,' Davies told reporters.

'It is outrageous that a school in a small town in east Texas would encourage their 4-year-olds to be cross-dressers,' institute litigation director Hiram Sasser said.

He sought and obtained permission from the district for the woman's children to stay out of school for the day.

School attorney Tanner Hunt told Reuters the Liberty group misrepresented TWIRP Day and made it sound sinister when it has always been innocent fun.

'I guarantee you nobody on the school board or in the administration ever had that cross their minds,' Hunt said of the 'cross-dressing' reference.

Sasser said it was not his intent to disparage the school.

'The district gets mad every time I say 'cross-dress,' but I don't know what other way to describe it,' he told Reuters.

Because of the controversy, school officials decided to change Wednesday from TWIRP Day to Camouflage Day, in what Hunt described as a reference to the clothing hunters wear during deer-hunting season, which is going on now and is enormously popular in rural Texas.

Despite the change from TWIRP Day, Hunt said some of the students stuck to the old tradition and wore clothes of the opposite sex.

'I understand from the superintendent that some of the boys dressed in pink shorts anyway,' he said."

One of my first and favorite stops in the blogosphere, General J.C. Christian's site, picked this up a few days ago, and I happened to run across the original wire service story looking for something else this evening. You should stop by and read his piece on it, as well as everything else he's written. Be sure to read the comments, too. He has collected what might be the most brilliantly demented crew of correspondents in cyberspace.

But anyways, this is a pretty new blog, and I had hoped to keep the level of discourse reasonably high. Now, it's true that Mr. Bluememe's near-psychotic obsession with dairy-based religious icons has already damaged any aspirations we may have had for street cred in the realm of sociopolitical analysis, but I had hoped to hold on to some shred of decorum and dignity. You know, thoughtful posts, clean language, all that.

But fuck. I mean, fuck. These people are all so fucking ignorant that it's impossible to pick the most fucking ignorant one out of the fucking crowd. Maybe I shouldn't be so judgmental with the complaining mom in the case. She's just expressing her authentic anxieties, however misguided they may be, although even casual contemplation of her fears suggests that if every little kid who dressed up like their opposite sexed parent flipped, we'd be a nation of time-warping Frank-n-Furters. And I am not in the least surprised that a right wing lawyer with a right wing agenda would characterize pretend play and dress-up as "cross-dressing" in order to stir the pot a bit (although it sounds like the pinhead might actually believe it).

The school officials, well, "galactically stupid" is the first phrase that pops to mind. If you're going to cave to the small-minded fears of the community, well, OK, go ahead, there's a lot of it going around these days, and you're only subject to everyday condemnation for that. But if you're going to pseudovalidate the fear that clothes make the man (or in this case, unmake him), why would you do anything but just cancel the event? Wouldn't putting the tots in camo theoretically prime them for another Columbine? It's not really going to turn any of them into homicidal maniacs or even good shots during hunting season, of course, but what the fuck was the rationale?

Jeebus. The term "fucktard" was born for situations like this.






1,420 calories in America's new monster hamburger

The Monster Thickburger is nothing less than a "monument to decadence", declares Hardee's, the chain pandering to the country's worst instincts for greed and gluttony.

Hardee's new offering: 'not a burger for tree-huggers'
The burger, which packs a bulging 1,420 calories and 107 grams of fat per portion, also bucks the trend of fast-food restaurants offering healthier alternatives.

"It's not a burger for tree-huggers," said a Hardee's executive, rejoicing in their defiance of the fad for salads and "Atkins-friendly" menus.


Yeah, but if you buy enough of 'em, I 'll bet you will see the Virgin Mary...

Melting Glaciers Threaten World Water Supply

Mountain glaciers, which act as the world's water towers, are shrinking at ever faster rates, threatening the livelihoods of millions of people and the future of countless species, a scientist said Thursday.
...
Studies show that Africa's highest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, may lose its ice-cap by 2020, while the Glacier National Park in the northern United States could well be looking for a new name by 2030.


Nope, nope. No such thing. Not happening. And we have to study it some more. And it might cost jobs, or lower the price of oil, or something.

Virgin Mary In Grilled Cheese update

Price back down to $7600.00. 40-odd (indeed) bids ranging from $13,000 to $99 million have been mysteriously cancelled. Could it be that they were not from serious bidders? Not sure of the Dairy Council or the Catholic Church should be more concerned.



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