Thursday, April 30, 2009

Let us enterain you

The Village Idiots on Fox, along with their separated at birth twin, Chris Matthews, just don't seem to get it. Right now, folks aren't looking for their president to entertain them. They're looking for sobriety, reason, thoughtfulness, and the confidence that their president knows what the fuck he's doing. Obama delivered on all that -- again -- last night, on a crazily wide array of pressing issues.

I don't think he -- or anybody else -- cares that Karl Rove was bored.

And, I might add, while I was watching the press conference, the Yankees scored seven runs in an inning. He can give a press conference every night as far as I'm concerned.

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Power corrupts

Has anyone noticed that the collapse of the Republican Party is directly tied to the fact that they controlled, however briefly, all three branches of government?

And it will be interesting to see if the new the Republican Right hates moderates meme will replace the Democrats are a party of special interests meme that we've endure for the past, oh, twenty years.


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Flu-like symptons

Sign seen in a New York hotel lobby today:

Wash hands frequently.
Sneeze into the crook of your arm.


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Desperate times call for desperate 79-year olds

Time's Michael Grunwald pretty accurately explains why we should hold the applause for Arlen.

That's why Specter is bailing on the party that he joined more than four decades ago to run for district attorney of Philadelphia. After talking to Republican leaders and his longtime Republican supporters, he said in his statement, "it has become clear to me that the stimulus vote caused a schism which makes our differences irreconcilable." In other words: He knew he had no shot as a Republican, so voila, he's a Democrat again. Even though he voted for Bush's judges, Bush's war, Bush's tax cuts — through the same "reconciliation" process he recently attacked Democrats for considering now — and most of the rest of Bush's agenda. Even though he's best known for trashing Anita Hill, and for being one of the most obnoxious bosses on Capitol Hill.
And, unlike Jim Jeffords, it's pretty meaningless for the Dems. There's no change from minority to majority and the so-call "filibuster-proof 60" doesn't hold a lot of water. Specter has no more in common with the rest of the party than does Lieberman, another "man of deep principle" (one, that is, getting re-elected). We really don't need any more squishy, self-absorbed "centrists."

I sincerely hope the party and Senate leadership made no promises to him. He had no chance of winning a Republican primary; he shouldn't be guaranteed a win in the Democratic one. This is a huge opportunity to pick up a Senate seat for a progressive Democrat who can support Obama's agenda. It was before Specter faced likely primary defeat. It still is.

That said, I wonder how many other "moderate Republicans" are looking at their party affiliations and thinking, "This is the Donner Party!"

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Conspiracies abound

Since some on the Right are accusing Obama of hoping for a deadly terrorist attack and using deadly flu outbreaks in Mexico to either get Sibelius confirmed or to further his goal of creating a police state, how long will it be before he is accused of ordering -- just for kicks -- the simulation of a 747 attack on photo op over lower Manhattan? It's a conspiracy, I tells ya.

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Local pride in Detroit

Good for Mike Ilitch and the Tigers.

Over at Comerica Park, GM has already pulled their ads from the stadium because they can’t afford it. The company had sponsored the big fountain in center field since the ballpark opened.

The Tigers had offers from other companies to take over the space. But team owner Mike Ilitch passed. Instead he had the logos of GM, Ford and Chrysler put on the fountain above a sign that says “The Detroit Tigers support our automakers.”

The cost to the companies? Free.

Ilitch explained to reporters last month that his father worked at Ford and he feels he owes it to the Big Three to lend his support. Ilitch is a former Marine and a former Tigers minor leaguer who founded the Little Caesars Pizza chain in 1959. Now one of the wealthiest men in the state, he has renovated much of the area around the park and also owns the Red Wings.

The Tigers, I’m told, are fearing massive drops in attendance this season as many people around here simply can’t afford to attend a game. But Ilitch is doing his part to try and bolster civic pride at a time it’s really needed. You have to respect that.


Monday, April 27, 2009

Strident science

Amy Sullivan is sometimes none too bright.

It's not that Obama works himself into a rant when he talks about science. He's still calm, cool Barack, after all. But for him, it is almost strident. Sometimes it's his language--today he complained that "We have watched as scientific integrity has been undermined and scientific research politicized in an effort to advance predetermined ideological agendas." And sometimes it's just his tone--when I listened to the stem-cell speech, his voice sounded uncharacteristically hard, although in reading the text later I noticed a sensitivity to dissenting beliefs that hadn't come through in the delivery.

Maybe the dismissal of science and evidence simply offends Obama's intellectual sensibilities. Or maybe it's one of those rare issues on which his emotions peek through and we're hearing from a man who believes his mother died too early from a disease he hopes will one day be curable.

Whatever the reason, it worries me somewhat because science is one of those areas in which Obama's generally nuanced intellectual approach would be helpful. The anti-science, anti-expert mindset is obviously troubling. But so too is the idea that science is always an unquestioned capital-G good and that anyone who raises questions stands in the way of progress. To cite just one troubling example, this week Michael Isikoff reports a confrontation between FBI interrogator Ali Soufan and a CIA contractor whose harsh methods disturbed him:

"I asked [the contractor] if he'd ever interrogated anyone, and he said no," Soufan says. But that didn't matter, the contractor shot back: "Science is science. This is a behavioral issue." The contractor suggested Soufan was the inexperienced one. "He told me he's a psychologist and he knows how the human mind works."

Now, obviously that's an extreme example. Most advocates of science aren't looking to use it to excuse torture. But neither are most people who worry about the use of embryonic stem cells engaged in "effort[s] to advance predetermined ideological agendas."

It's not that it's an "extreme example," it's a stupid one. If this contractor claims that "behavioral science" is what leads him to abuse (Arab) prisoners, then he isn't talking about "science," he's talking about quasi science at best, racism at worst.

She's also blissfully clueless about whom Obama was referring to in condemning those who undermined scientific integrity to "advance predetermined ideological agendas." He wasn't talking about those morally opposed to research involving embryonic stem cells. He was talking about the Bush administration and their cynical politicizing of science to advance their agenda.

Willful blindness

Dan Froomkin notices the odd urge of our elite pundits to call for forgiveness and forgetting rather than investigations on the use of torture.

Now, a seemingly endless and horrifying series of revelations has unleashed an intense public reaction -- while at the same time calling attention to all that we still don't know. And with Barack Obama as president -- despite his own reluctance to "look backward," as he puts it -- serious inquiry into what happened seems a distinct possibility.

There is an obvious partisan aspect to the current debate, as Republican leaders have fallen in lockstep behind the former Bush officials defending torture as legal and necessary. But it doesn't need to be that way. And I suspect that as we learn more -- and as the defense of clearly repugnant and illegal acts becomes more of a political loser -- Republicans will choose not to allow Bush-era torture to define their party.

That would leave a motley -- and yet still consequential -- alliance of the directly and indirectly culpable as the final defenders of torture know-nothingism. That group includes not only former administration officials and members of the intelligence community, but the political and media leaders -- Republican and Democrat alike -- who chose acquiescence over outrage and were a key part of keeping the torturers' secrets for so long.

Eventually, Dick Cheney will get his wish and we are going to get a full and nausiating picture of what was done to "protect the American people." After five years of hints and glimpses, we'll no longer be able to ignore it.


New York Fed

The Times has a long report on Tim Geithner's close relationship with the very Wall Street titans he's now in charge of bailing out. In it I learn something new.

The Federal Reserve was created after a banking crisis nearly a century ago to manage the money supply through interest-rate policy, oversee the safety and soundness of the banking system and act as lender of last resort in times of trouble. The Fed relies on its regional banks, like the New York Fed, to carry out its policies and monitor certain banks in their areas.

The regional reserve banks are unusual entities. They are private and their shares are owned by financial institutions the bank oversees. Their net income is paid to the Treasury.

At the New York Fed, top executives of global financial giants fill many seats on the board. In recent years, board members have included the chief executives of Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase, as well as top officials of Lehman Brothers and industrial companies like General Electric.

In theory, having financiers on the New York Fed’s board should help the president be Washington’s eyes and ears on Wall Street. But critics, including some current and former Federal Reserve officials, say the New York Fed is often more of a Wall Street mouthpiece than a cop.

Willem H. Buiter, a professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science who caused a stir at a Fed retreat last year with a paper concluding that the Federal Reserve had been co-opted by the financial industry, said the structure ensured that “Wall Street gets what it wants” in its New York president: “A safe pair of hands, someone who is bright, intelligent, hard-working, but not someone who intends to reform the system root and branch.”

It seems as though it may be time to reform the reformers.

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Blue Monday, It's really hot edition

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Friday, April 24, 2009

Secretary Clinton

A lot of people, myself included, were amazed when Hillary Clinton gave up the cozy life time club of the U.S. Senate for a cabinet position. After watching highlights of her testimony on Capitol Hill this week, I'm beginning to understand her decision.

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Pat Toomey thinks you're lazy

"A skeptical, angry, and often stupid legislature"

Justin Fox has a few thoughts on why Tim Geithner and the Obama administration haven't followed the advice of Johnson, Krugman, and Stiglitz.. I'm really hoping his instincts are correct.


Baseball weather

Spring Summer has arrived here in the Northeast this weekend, perfect for a few games amongst friends. I'm pretty sure that all Boston is too preoccupied with the Celtics and the alleged Craigslist Killer to notice that the New York Yankees will be playing their beloved Carmine-Hosed over the next few days in The Fens. Both teams are 9-6 and no one expects the Blue Jays to be in first place too much longer.

The pitching match-ups alone are intriguing, as Joba goes up against Jon Lester tonight, followed by a potentially epic* Burnett/Beckett meeting tomorrow, with veteran Andy Pettitte opposite young Bat Justin Masterson on Sunday night. Whee.

*If by "epic" you mean a total of a combined 16 runs scored in five innings.

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"Contrarians' arguments are not convincing"

It's depressing to speculate on what would have happened if fossil-fuel related industries had listened to their own scientists and not thrown smoke bombs when it came to climate change.

For more than a decade the Global Climate Coalition, a group representing industries with profits tied to fossil fuels, led an aggressive lobbying and public relations campaign against the idea that emissions of heat-trapping gases could lead to global warming.

“The role of greenhouse gases in climate change is not well understood,” the coalition said in a scientific “backgrounder” provided to lawmakers and journalists through the early 1990s, adding that “scientists differ” on the issue.

But a document filed in a federal lawsuit demonstrates that even as the coalition worked to sway opinion, its own scientific and technical experts were advising that the science backing the role of greenhouse gases in global warming could not be refuted.

“The scientific basis for the Greenhouse Effect and the potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 on climate is well established and cannot be denied,” the experts wrote in an internal report compiled for the coalition in 1995.

The coalition was financed by fees from large corporations and trade groups representing the oil, coal and auto industries, among others. In 1997, the year an international climate agreement that came to be known as the Kyoto Protocol was negotiated, its budget totaled $1.68 million, according to tax records obtained by environmental groups.

Imagine if we had those ten years back?

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Human Condition


Civil libertarians

This should be funny...

WASHINGTON — The director of the Central Intelligence Agency concluded in late 2005 that a conversation picked up on a government wiretap was serious enough to require notifying Congressional leaders that Representative Jane Harman, Democrat of California, could become enmeshed in an investigation into Israeli influence in Washington, former government officials said Thursday.

But Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales told the director of the agency, Porter J. Goss, to hold off on briefing lawmakers about the conversation, between Ms. Harman and an Israeli intelligence operative, despite a longstanding government policy to inform Congressional leaders quickly whenever a member of Congress could be a target of a national security investigation.

One reason Mr. Gonzales intervened, the former officials said, was to protect Ms. Harman because they saw her as a valuable administration ally in urging The New York Times not to publish an article about the National Security Agency’s program of wiretapping without warrants.

...but, strangely, it is not.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

A fixer-upper

Pete Abe has some suggestions for the Yankee Stadium management to-do list:

1. Move right field wall back six feet, make it higher.
2. Remove seats from directly behind OF fences so fans can’t interfere with games.
3. Fix backstop net so TV network we own most of can televise games unimpeded.
4. Call Mohegan Sun and apologize for every story that says “The Mohegan Sun Sports Bar, which obstructs thousands of seats …”
5. Find a way to fill the good seats.


Shep Smith is telling the truth

Whoa. Good for him.


"Living the dream

Yes, this one is egregious enough -- an op ed a front page news story about the sorry fate of our country's wealthiest executives and the extraordinary pressures they face.

But it's this one that really got me sputtering this morning.

Still, for Ms. Bigbie, an interior designer and aesthetic omnivore, and her boyfriend, Jay Shapiro, 33, a skateboarder who is the bass player for Space Vacation, a heavy metal band in San Francisco, skateboarding — its renegade, Zen essence — is a way of life. And pool skating is the apogee.

This is how the empty pool as metaphor and touchstone became a focal point for the tiny Victorian house Ms. Bigbie and Mr. Shapiro bought in the Noe Valley neighborhood of San Francisco four years ago. In the backyard, they planned to sink a swimming pool, and never fill it. As a placeholder, they erected a skate ramp that had belonged to a friend and was made, in part, from reclaimed barn siding.

“It was beautiful,” Ms. Bigbie said mistily. “We called it ‘Living the Dream.’ ”


Ms. Bigbie and Mr. Shapiro met 10 years ago at Skater Island, a now-defunct skate park in Middletown, R.I. She was studying at the Rhode Island School of Design and living in Providence; he was doing construction in Newport, where he lived. Ms. Bigbie would drive down on Friday nights to hang out at the park, and she noted Mr. Shapiro’s fine skating moves and, she said, “I just thought he was really cute.”

For his part, Mr. Shapiro was happy to meet a female skateboarder “who wasn’t a weirdo,” as he put it. “Claire was really cool. We would skateboard together, have a few beers. After that we were attached at the hip.”

After Ms. Bigbie graduated in 2001, the couple lived in London for a year. Ms. Bigbie — who had been collecting furniture since she was 14 (about the same time she started skating) and had designed a skateboard clothing line by 16 and graphics for the indie record company Tooth + Nail by 18 — worked at the British furniture design company Precious McBane. Mr. Shapiro became an assistant to Richie Hopson, a British photographer.

When he was offered a job as a team manager for Think Skateboards in San Francisco, they returned, and Ms. Bigbie became a stylist for the do-it-yourself magazine Ready Made. They moved into a rental cottage in the Mission along with two dogs (Sen-C, a mutt, and Rollie, a black Labrador), his musical instruments and her furniture.

“I had an apartment’s worth of furniture by the time I left home for college,” Ms. Bigbie said. “The cottage was way too small.”

The real estate market was heating up, and they lost out on a few places before buying this one (2,000 square feet including an in-law apartment) for $1 million in 2005. At first, they thought they could renovate it themselves. But as Mr. Shapiro and his friends began scooping out its innards — the house had been divided into two apartments with tiny, dark rooms — it became clear an architect was needed, if only to obtain building permits.

Ya know, it would be none of my business normally, but since the pair are featured prominently in the New York Times Home section and are portrayed as such counter-cultural hipsters, it would be nice to know how a 30 year old designer and her 33 bassist-sometime construction worker-boyfriend could "live in London for a year," then plop down a cool million for a Victorian in San Francisco's Noe Valley.

One assumes there are some wealthy parents/benefactors out there, but I guess in the elite world of New York Times reporters and editors, it is simply not unusual for young skateboarders to have this kind of money, so there's no need to mention how they acquired such wealth.

And to ignore the fact that they spent that million at the very peak of the housing bubble only makes it worse.


The Chinese Wall

Ali Soufan, the FBI investigator who doggedly interrogated one of the USS Cole bombers, ultimately tying that crime to al Qaeda, finally speaks out against the "harsh interrogation techniques" used by CIA contractors.

There was no actionable intelligence gained from using enhanced interrogation techniques on Abu Zubaydah that wasn’t, or couldn’t have been, gained from regular tactics. In addition, I saw that using these alternative methods on other terrorists backfired on more than a few occasions — all of which are still classified. The short sightedness behind the use of these techniques ignored the unreliability of the methods, the nature of the threat, the mentality and modus operandi of the terrorists, and due process.

Defenders of these techniques have claimed that they got Abu Zubaydah to give up information leading to the capture of Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a top aide to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and Mr. Padilla. This is false. The information that led to Mr. Shibh’s capture came primarily from a different terrorist operative who was interviewed using traditional methods. As for Mr. Padilla, the dates just don’t add up: the harsh techniques were approved in the memo of August 2002, Mr. Padilla had been arrested that May.

One of the worst consequences of the use of these harsh techniques was that it reintroduced the so-called Chinese wall between the C.I.A. and F.B.I., similar to the communications obstacles that prevented us from working together to stop the 9/11 attacks. Because the bureau would not employ these problematic techniques, our agents who knew the most about the terrorists could have no part in the investigation. An F.B.I. colleague of mine who knew more about Khalid Shaikh Mohammed than anyone in the government was not allowed to speak to him.

It was the right decision to release these memos, as we need the truth to come out. This should not be a partisan matter, because it is in our national security interest to regain our position as the world’s foremost defenders of human rights. Just as important, releasing these memos enables us to begin the tricky process of finally bringing these terrorists to justice.
Hard to see how any of that kept us "safe" for seven years, as Cheney claims, particularly in light of the fact that the main goal of the torture was to invent a link between 9/11 and Iraq.


"Idiosyncratic views"

In other words, John Yoo's views were known to be batshit crazy, so that should shield him from prosecution over actions taken because of his views.

The shield against prosecution provided by the Bush legal team’s assurances has led some critics to focus on the role played by the lawyers themselves, like Mr. Cheney’s counsel, David S. Addington; Mr. Rumsfeld’s counsel, William J. Haynes II; and the authors of the Justice Department memorandums: John C. Yoo, Jay S. Bybee and Steven G. Bradbury.

Legal specialists from across the ideological spectrum have criticized those memorandums, especially a set written in 2002 by Mr. Yoo and Mr. Bybee, who is now a federal judge. Some have accused the lawyers of deliberately writing down a false reading of the law to enable policy makers to violate it with impunity.

But there is little precedent for prosecuting government lawyers who provided arguably bad legal opinions. Moreover, Mr. Yoo, the memorandums’ principal author, had espoused idiosyncratic views about presidential power before joining the Justice Department, so it would be difficult to prove that he did not believe what he was writing.
Good to know he's teaching at Berkeley.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Sun burn

David Ignatius comes to an odd conclusion regarding Obama's (court ordered) decision to release the torture memos.

America will be better off, in the long run, for Obama's decision to expose the past practice of torture and ban its future use. But meanwhile, the country is fighting a war, and it needs to take care that the sunlight of exposure doesn't blind its shadow warriors.

I'm unclear here. What "war" is he talking about? The war in Iraq? Is he suggesting we should permit CIA agents carte blanche there? Is he pushing the Bush administration argument that the Geneva Conventions are for pussies? Or Afghanistan? I'm sure members of the Taliban will be easily scared by waterboarding...maybe after the 183rd time, anyway.

No, he must mean the Global War on Terror (GWOT), which, since you can't declare war on a tactic, will go on and on and on. Should we shield our CIA operatives' eyes (or our own) forever?

The problem here is not the decision to release the memos. The problem here -- and what the CIA should be really pissed about -- was the decision by the Cheney/Rumsfeld junta (and the small animal torturers the administration went to for legal counsel) to demand that the CIA use torture in the first place. Without any regard for its efficacy, let alone its morality.

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Whaddya got to hide, Senator?

I'm not entirely certain, but I believe Mr. Greenwald is being "ironic."

But I'm really wondering: as serious as it is when a member of Congress is the target of government eavesdropping, can we really afford to investigate this? After all, we have so many very important things to do. It really seems like we need to be looking forward, not backwards. The Bush administration is gone. This all happened in 2005 -- years ago. Is this really a time to be pursuing grudges, to be re-litigating old disputes? What kind of partisan witch hunt is Harman after? We can, and surely should, reflect on what happened to her -- in fact, let us now pause together for a moment of quiet reflection on what was done to Jane Harman -- but this is not a time for retribution or looking back. "Most Americans" want the people's business done, not "abuse of power" investigations.

Besides, if Jane Harman didn't do anything wrong -- as she claims -- then what does she have to hide? Only Terrorists and criminals would mind the Government listening in. We all know that government officials have better things to do than worry about what innocent Americans are saying. If she did nothing wrong -- if all she was doing was talking to her nice constituents and AIPAC supporters about how she could be of service -- then Bush officials obviously weren't interested in what she had to say.

Beyond that, even if there were "illegal" acts committed here, surely we should be rushing to retroactively immunize those responsible, just as Harman eagerly advocated and engineered and then voted for when it came to the telecoms who broke our laws and enabled illegal spying on American citizens. That was when she voted to gut FISA protections and massively expand the Government's power to eavesdrop on Americans with no warrants as part of the Cheney/Rockefeller/Hoyer Surveillance State celebration known as the "FISA Amendments Act of 2008."

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The "ick" factor

This exchange tells us a lot...about Justice Breyer.

Adam Wolf, the ACLU lawyer who represents Redding, explains that "the Fourth Amendment does not countenance the rummaging on or around a 13-year-old girl's naked body." Wolf explains that he is arguing for a "two-step framework," wherein schools can use a lower standard to search "backpacks, pencil cases, bookbags" but a higher standard when you "require a 13-year-old girl to take off her pants, her shirt, move around her bra so she reveals her breasts, and the same thing with her underpants to reveal her pelvic area." This leads Justice Stephen Breyer to query whether this is all that different from asking Redding to "change into a swimming suit or your gym clothes," because, "why is this a major thing to say strip down to your underclothes, which children do when they change for gym?"

This leads Ginsburg to sputter—in what I have come to think of as her Lilly Ledbetter voice—"what was done in the case … it wasn't just that they were stripped to their underwear! They were asked to shake their bra out, to stretch the top of their pants and shake that out!" Nobody but Ginsburg seems to comprehend that the only locker rooms in which teenage girls strut around, bored but fabulous in their underwear, are to be found in porno movies. For the rest of us, the middle-school locker room was a place for hastily removing our bras without taking off our T-shirts.

But Breyer just isn't letting go. "In my experience when I was 8 or 10 or 12 years old, you know, we did take our clothes off once a day, we changed for gym, OK? And in my experience, too, people did sometimes stick things in my underwear."

Shocked silence, followed by explosive laughter. In fact, I have never seen Justice Clarence Thomas laugh harder. Breyer tries to recover: "Or not my underwear. Whatever. Whatever. I was the one who did it? I don't know. I mean, I don't think it's beyond human experience."

As Dahlia notes, "It gets weirder."

I'm not sure Justice Ginsburg has ever been lonelier than she was during the oral arguments for Redding.

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SERE Tactics

The Bush administration (along with Congressional leaders) approved the use of torture without any effort to understand the history of the methods they were using or even whether professional interrogators thought they would work. Typically, they made decisions that would seriously undermine our nation's reputation and credibility, our moral standing vis a vis totalitarian governments, and our ability to eventually bring members of al Qaeda to justice, without so much as a debate.

In a series of high-level meetings in 2002, without a single dissent from cabinet members or lawmakers, the United States for the first time officially embraced the brutal methods of interrogation it had always condemned.

This extraordinary consensus was possible, an examination by The New York Times shows, largely because no one involved — not the top two C.I.A. officials who were pushing the program, not the senior aides to President George W. Bush, not the leaders of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees — investigated the gruesome origins of the techniques they were approving with little debate.

According to several former top officials involved in the discussions seven years ago, they did not know that the military training program, called SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, had been created decades earlier to give American pilots and soldiers a sample of the torture methods used by Communists in the Korean War, methods that had wrung false confessions from Americans.

Even George J. Tenet, the C.I.A. director who insisted that the agency had thoroughly researched its proposal and pressed it on other officials, did not examine the history of the most shocking method, the near-drowning technique known as waterboarding.

The top officials he briefed did not learn that waterboarding had been prosecuted by the United States in war-crimes trials after World War II and was a well-documented favorite of despotic governments since the Spanish Inquisition; one waterboard used under Pol Pot was even on display at the genocide museum in Cambodia.

They did not know that some veteran trainers from the SERE program itself had warned in internal memorandums that, morality aside, the methods were ineffective. Nor were most of the officials aware that the former military psychologist who played a central role in persuading C.I.A. officials to use the harsh methods had never conducted a real interrogation, or that the Justice Department lawyer most responsible for declaring the methods legal had idiosyncratic ideas that even the Bush Justice Department would later renounce.

The process was “a perfect storm of ignorance and enthusiasm,” a former C.I.A. official said.
One can reasonably understand that, with lower Manhattan still smoldering, such techniques could be discussed and, even, approved -- ticking time bomb and all that. What boggles the mind is that there was never any effort, once the threat of more, imminent attacks was removed, to revisit these decisions in light of greater information about their history and effectiveness.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Status and pride

Maybe they'll just go Gault.

Part of the problem, the Goldman vet explains, is that there’s a vast divide between where the public is and where the bankers are. The public registers how fundamentally the system has changed; the bankers are far from getting to that point. “When I talked to my friends in November and December at firms like Goldman, they would tell me, ‘If the government doesn’t bail us out, we’re going down.’ They really thought they were going to zero, and without exception, they all forget that now,” he says. “They forget that their company’s stock was going to zero. It’s a state of delusion; they don’t remember those days. The flip side of that is, every guy except the Goldman guy remembers that Goldman was bailed out.”

I asked him what will happen if Congress succeeds in regulating compensation. “These guys will not work on Wall Street,” he says flatly. “People go to Wall Street out of greed. When I was interviewing for jobs, frequently some form of the question came up: How much do you want to make money? If my answer was something like—and it wasn’t—but if my answer was, ‘I’m here for intellectual betterment,’ their response might have been, ‘University is a great place for you.’ They want people who think ‘I’m greedy, I want to be a billionaire.’ That was viewed as a really good thing.”

The greed won’t disappear, of course. “The smart people are going to make money in good times and bad times,” one investment adviser tells me. “They’ll figure out how to game the system,” says the former Bear Stearns managing director. “You may get a new set of players. This may be a movement back to partnerships and boutique firms. This could be their moment.”

There’s a vast woundedness now on Wall Street, which is hard to contemplate after the period of triumphalism so recently ended. In this conversation about money, there’s a lot to work through. Just months ago, the masses kept what anger they had to themselves, and the bankers were close-lipped about what they thought they were owed by society. There wasn’t much of a dialogue about the haves and have-nots and who was entitled to what. For the privileged, it was a lot more comfortable when things remained unspoken. Almost more than the loss of money, they are concerned with the loss of status and pride.

Almost, but not quite. Money was their way of keeping score, but it was also their way of buying status and it definitely became part of the structure of their lives. That's why I laugh when I hear that the wealthiest 1% will stop making charitable contributions of the deduction is reduced or eliminated. I'm not saying that they don't want to help people with their charitable giving (though I'm not sure how being on the board of MOMA helps anyone other than other wealthy people who like to go to fundraisers at MOMA), but ultimately that charitable giving gives them access and status. That need won't go away.


Stupid banking tricks

It's like he's holding a gun to his head, demanding that we stop him before he kills more.

Jamie Dimon, the bank's chairman, spoke of his "fortress balance sheet" as part of a presentation to investors during last week's results, highlighting the bank's $137.2bn of Tier One capital and 11.3pc Tier One capital ratio, which equates to 9.2pc without its $25bn of TARP capital.

A tetchy Dimon referred to the government's money as both a "scarlet letter" and the "TARP baby" – something which he is fed up of holding - during a conference call, saying he would pay it back tomorrow if he could.

Jamie Dimon, please shut up.

Another day, another attempt by a Wall Street bank to pull a bunny out of the hat, showing off an earnings report that it hopes will elicit oohs and aahs from the market. Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and, on Monday, Bank of America all tried to wow their audiences with what appeared to be — presto! — better-than-expected numbers.

But in each case, investors spotted the attempts at sleight of hand, and didn’t buy it for a second.

With Goldman Sachs, the disappearing month of December didn’t quite disappear (it changed its reporting calendar, effectively erasing the impact of a $1.5 billion loss that month); JPMorgan Chase reported a dazzling profit partly because the price of its bonds dropped (theoretically, they could retire them and buy them back at a cheaper price; that’s sort of like saying you’re richer because the value of your home has dropped); Citigroup pulled the same trick.

Bank of America sold its shares in China Construction Bank to book a big one-time profit, but Ken Lewis heralded the results as “a testament to the value and breadth of the franchise.”

Enough, already.


Monday, April 20, 2009

Blue Monday -- Blue Oyster Cult edition

A Spitzer come back?

One of the more tragic examples of self-destruction is Eliot Spitzer. I thought the comeuppance for such a moralistic man was kinda fun, but I was angry he was compelled to resign...the embarrassment and loss of his wife seemed like plenty of punishment. So it's good he's reentering the public forum, because he was extremely prescient about the current various financial crises.


Saturday, April 18, 2009

Extreme reactions

The Times' Opinionator blog has a fairly good rundown of reaction to the tax day of rage out there. I do wish Harshaw had done a little better job at, ya know, reporting on how astro-turfy these protests were and that their very protests over Obama's "tax increases" are based on falsehoods and probably covering their fear of a black president and the specter of Islamasocialism, there's no denying that a lot of people went. And while many of them can be ridiculed for angrily protesting "higher taxes" even as they themselves sip at the government trough, the fear and anger are certainly real.

Their protests may be bullshit, in other words, but we've seen other progressive moments derailed by a combination of events (losing wars) and this type of controlled hatred and fear of dark people gaining power.

Oh, and I don't ever recall the Right being outraged by protesters being arrested and kept in pens for days during the GOP convention. Fainting at the mere thought that DHS may be a tad concerned over anger at a black president is a bit much.


Good intentions

I rarely catch Bill Moyer's show or NOW on PBS. But I'm traveling and the shows are on late here on the West Coast (and NOW, especially, is good for making me sleepy). Last nights shows featured, respectively, an interview with the creator of The Wire and a travelogue on the imminent demise of some of the world's great glaciers.

Bill Moyer's interview with David Simon focused primarily on the notion that we have become ("become?" I'd ask) an oligarchy, with the system fixed on maintaining power for them that's got and depriving them that's not a voice (my Ray Charles' words, but you get the idea). He's particularly passionate about the Drug War's failure to do anything but keep a certain class of people working on the street and a certain class of drugs illegal, and how every dime of interdiction costs should be turned to rebuilding communities and providing treatment.

At the end of the two hours I realized the utter futility of these types of programs. Will anyone whose mind could be changed about the self-destructiveness of the Drug War or the disaster of climate change even bother to care to watch these shows? Of course not. Only those predisposed to agree with the arguments and with the science will care. And that's just not yet good enough.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

The real Boston tea party

Now, that is grass roots.

The only organization in Boston re-enacting the original tea party — a gay rights group — was not associated with the other demonstrations.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Did you teabag anyone today?

Things will be kinda light for the next several days. Go out and protest...something. And be oblivious about it.


One who fought back

Judith Krug, 69.

Judith F. Krug, who led the campaign by libraries against efforts to ban books, including helping found Banned Books Week, then fought laws and regulations to limit children’s access to the Internet, died Saturday in Evanston, Ill. She was 69.

The cause was stomach cancer, her son, Steven, said.

As the American Library Association’s official proponent of the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech since the 1960s, Ms. Krug (pronounced kroog) fought the banning of books, including “Huckleberry Finn,” “Mein Kampf,” “Little Black Sambo,” “Catcher in the Rye” and sex manuals. In 1982, she helped found Banned Books Week, an annual event that includes authors reading from prohibited books.

She also fought for the inclusion of literature on library shelves that she herself found offensive, like “The Blue Book” of the ultraconservative John Birch Society. The book is a transcript of a two-day monologue by Robert Welch at the founding meeting of the society in 1958.

“My personal proclivities have nothing to do with how I react as a librarian,” Ms. Krug said in an interview with The New York Times in 1972. “Library service in this country should be based on the concept of intellectual freedom, of providing all pertinent information so a reader can make decisions for himself.”

In 1967, Ms. Krug became director of the library association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, which promotes intellectual freedom in libraries. In 1969, she was appointed executive director of its Freedom to Read Foundation, which raises money to further First Amendment issues in court cases.

The issues have changed over time. In December 1980, Ms. Krug’s observation that complaints about the content of books in public libraries had increased fivefold in the month since Ronald Reagan was elected president was widely reported. In an interview with The Times, she said that many of the complainants identified themselves as members of Moral Majority, a strongly conservative group, but the Rev. George A. Zarris, chairman of Moral Majority in Illinois, denied there was any organized effort.

But the situation illustrated a frequent conflict in issues over library censorship. Ms. Krug pushed what she often described as a pure view of the First Amendment against what her opponents often said was the democratic will.

"A pure view of the First Amendment."

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Message discipline really isn't the problem

GOP strategists, not surprisingly, can feel the bottom of the pool with their toes.

Bottom, of course, is a subjective term. But most Republican strategists claim to see at least a few signs of new life, even if a spring awakening is still a ways a way. "The last few months have not been so hot for us, but our guys understand that and they are working on a way out of it," says Ron Bonjean, a strategist to GOP House and Senate leadership. After losing the House in 1994, Democrats took more than a decade to form an effective opposition; even with the advantage of a Democrat in the White House until 2001, Bonjean notes, they were unable to present a united front until President Bush's second term. "We'll know the GOP is firing on all cylinders when both the House and Senate leaders and members are all saying the same thing."

If that's their strategy, then they've got a fer bit longer to go down the road to irrelevancy. Because "saying the same thing" isn't the problem for the GOP. In fact, they are pretty much saying the same things. I mean look at these geniuses. The problem is that what they're saying generally falls into four broad categories: dumb, a lie, irrelevant , or insane.

The problem is not message discipline, it's message. Period.


Lucky Duckies, vol. XXIX

Shorter Actual Ari Fleischer: Pity the rich.

UPDATE: Oh, right.


The agony of Clarence Thomas

I'm not sure what frightens me more: that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas believes we have "too many rights," or that he finds his job just too onerous.

Justice Thomas talked about his own school days, reminiscing fondly about seeing “a flag and a crucifix in each classroom.” He talked about his burdens and his dark moods and about seeking inspiration in speeches and movies. And though the dinner was sponsored by the Bill of Rights Institute, he admitted to an uneasy relationship with the whole idea of rights.

The institute had arranged for a fancy hot-pink lectern that glowed from the inside, and it was odd to see Justice Thomas, who is wary of ostentation, standing behind it. His plain-spoken manner was in sharp contrast to his surroundings.

“I tend to be morose sometimes,” the justice said.

“I am rounding the last turn for my 18th term on the court,” he added, but his work — “this endeavor,” he called it, “or, for some, an ordeal” — has not gotten easier. “That’s one thing about this job,” he said. “You get a little tired.”

But he said he had found solace in his den.

“Sometimes, when I get a little down,” Justice Thomas said wearily, he goes online. “I look up wonderful speeches, like speeches by Douglas MacArthur, to hear him give without a note that speech at West Point — ‘duty, honor, country.’ How can you not hear those words and not feel strongly about what we have?”

He continued: “Or how can you not reminisce about a childhood where you began each day with the Pledge of Allegiance as little kids lined up in the schoolyard and then marched in two by two with a flag and a crucifix in each classroom?”

A favorite movie can be a comfort, too.

“I have on many occasions or a number of occasions when things were becoming particularly routine gone down to my basement to watch ‘Saving Private Ryan,’ ” he said. “I can’t tell you why that particular movie, except we have it and it’s about something important in our lives — World War II.”

The event, on March 31, was devoted to the Bill of Rights, but Justice Thomas did not embrace the document, and he proposed a couple of alternatives.

“Today there is much focus on our rights,” Justice Thomas said. “Indeed, I think there is a proliferation of rights.”

“I am often surprised by the virtual nobility that seems to be accorded those with grievances,” he said. “Shouldn’t there at least be equal time for our Bill of Obligations and our Bill of Responsibilities?”

Or maybe that he's nuts?


Monday, April 13, 2009

Damned if he does, damned if he...damn!

All last week the wingnutosphere was either roaring or sputtering that Obama was the reason a rag-tag band of Somali pirates (probably gay ones at that) was defying the U.S. Navy.

Now that it's reported he gave the orders to the Navy to kill the pirates should the merchant captain's life be in present danger and should there be a clear shot, which resulted in a successful hostage rescue, you'd think they'd be relieved for the captain, proud of and impressed by the Navy marksmen, and gracious towards the young president. Well, you'd be wrong.

In fact, in this case they're showing a rare affinity for the French.

Huston also raged that the President "sits at the picnic table watching his kids play in the White House," when he should have been tensing his jaw photogenically, barking out orders, and white. And Huston yelled that "the French... THE FRENCH... use proper military force against these criminal pirates" -- referring to a rescue mission that ended with the death of a hostage.

But getting the hostage killed has got to be the right way to run a rescue, because Obama didn't do it. (Radio nutcake Tammy Bruce also praised the French hostage-killing mission -- "Good for them for taking decisive action" -- and Wake Up America said that "the only other option is to hand the pirates what they ask for.")

You need a scorecard...

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Blue Monday, Big Mama Thornton edition

The Boston meat packers?

Interesting idea being played with up in Boston: Can local readers buy the paper in the same fashion as residents of Green Bay own the Packers?

“Boston is much less insular than it was 30 years ago,” said Paul S. Grogan, president of the Boston Foundation, a philanthropic group. The city has long had a chip on its collective shoulder about where it stands in the world, “especially any time you get New York into the picture,” he said, and while that trait has faded greatly, losing local institutions does not help.

Perhaps that is why, along with the desire to save The Globe, many Bostonians argue for local ownership, with a particular suspicion of answering to anyone in that bigger city on the Hudson.

One blogger advocated an arrangement similar to the community foundation that owns the Green Bay Packers football team. Several members of Boston’s business elite have been rumored to be interested in buying The Globe, but none have confirmed it and most have denied it.

At least a few local investors showed interest in buying the paper a few years ago, but that was before the newspaper business slid into its deep slump.

“You have to have local ownership that wants to buy the paper,” Mr. Menino said. “It’s questionable. I haven’t heard of anybody.”

Losing The Globe “would rock the city psychologically,” Mr. Grogan said. “It doesn’t square with the more confident, more worldly self-image that Boston has.”

But that impact would split along generational lines, as it does between Julia Quinn and James Monti, strangers who rode side by side last week on a Red Line subway train.

Ms. Quinn, a medical assistant in her 60s, said she read The Globe almost every day, though its politics were too liberal for her tastes. “Boston’s not a podunk town — it’s got to have a good paper,” she said.

Mr. Monti, an unemployed construction worker in his 20s, said he only occasionally picked up a paper, “mostly to see how the Sox are doing,” and was just as likely to find the news online. He shrugged off the prospect of losing The Globe, saying he could go elsewhere for information.

It seems hard to imagine how local ownership would work, unless investors are willing to take a stake for civic duty rather than future profits. After all, the good people of Green Bay can rely on the Packers to bring in revenue on game day and they benefit from the NFL's network TV deals.

And would you want, say, Mitt Romney or another wealthy politician to hold a major stake?

And is the Times even willing to sell?


A Bo Diddley beat

Well, I'm happy for the kids, but I can tell them from personal experience, it all ends in heartbreak.

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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Djuna, ? - April 11, 2009

Djuna contemplates
Originally uploaded by vegacura
Djuna was a leaner. She would walk up to M.C. or me where we'd be sitting or standing, sidle up alongside and then rest her weight against our leg. Up to the end, she was the sweetest dog I've ever met, and although we only had her for four years, having adopted the poor dog when she was already presumed to be older. She'd been abandoned in a snow storm, spent two days under someone's deck, then spent several months in a foster home with a jealous female lab. She never complained. Nor did she ever complain when she suffered from terrible gum disease and, more recently liver failure. But in the last few months she pretty much stopped eating, and in the last few days, she pretty much stopped taking water. It was time, and even through the indignities of the final trip to the vet, she was patient as ever with us. We'll miss her.

A year or two ago as we were walking her in a park, a young girl came up to us and asked if she could pet her. As she did, she looked up at us and said, "She's soft as a pillow." Yes, we said, she is.

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Friday, April 10, 2009

Nick Adenhart

I have to admit that my first thought when I read that a young Angels pitcher had died in a car crash following the best start of his brief career was that he was the DUI, not the alleged victim of one. And it didn't really hit me until this afternoon, as I was sitting at the counter in a diner, reading The Post.

Adenhart's dad, Jim, a retired Secret Service agent, had been in the stands for his son's big night on Wednesday.

Yesterday, he was seen standing on the pitcher's mound inside the silent stadium. He briefly covered his eyes with one hand. He also addressed the team.

At SI, Joe Posnanski puts it well.

On Wednesday evening, against the Oakland A's, Adenhart pitched the first brilliant game of his young career. He pitched six innings without allowing a run. He struck out five. You did not need to know a lot about him, and you probably did not know that he grew up in Maryland, that he was a tremendous pitching prospect, that he tore a ligament in his elbow his senior year in high school, that he had Tommy John surgery when he was 17 years old. You probably did not know that he worked hard to come back, that he did come back, that he had a low 90s fastball and a sharp curve but what impressed scouts most was an easy pitching delivery. Effortless, they called it.

You probably did not know these things unless you were a hardcore Angels fan, but what matters is that you did not need to know them. As a sports fan, you could understand the promise of a 22-year-old pitcher throwing six shutout innings in the first start of his rookie season. As a sports fan, you could anticipate what was possible. Adenhart wanted all his life to be a big leaguer -- the same dream so many young boys have in America. He had a chance to become a star.

No less tragic, two other young people died in the car, and a fourth is still in critical condition.


Jesus is just alright with me


Unitary executive outrages

I agree that it is pretty outrageous that Obama's Justice Dept. is invoking state secrets in the same manner as the Bush Justice Dept. My hope is that Holden & Co. is simply trying to strike a balance, but it is a faint one. What fascinates me, though, is that the outrage comes almost exclusively from the Left. The wingnutosphere is strangely quiet. Maybe just too busy ordering their personalized tea bags.

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Thursday, April 09, 2009

Village math

Dick Cheney: evil and stupid, right up to the end

Seymour Hersh's informative report on the challenges and opportunities the Obama administration finds itself with regard to the Middle East is worth a read. But it contains this little reminder of how very involved Dick Cheney has been over the last eight years, in every single foreign policy disaster, especially when it comes to Israel's disastrous incursions in Lebanon and Gaza. Oh, and what an asshole he is, personally, to boot.

The Obama transition team also helped persuade Israel to end the bombing of Gaza and to withdraw its ground troops before the Inauguration. According to the former senior intelligence official, who has access to sensitive information, “Cheney began getting messages from the Israelis about pressure from Obama” when he was President-elect. Cheney, who worked closely with the Israeli leadership in the lead-up to the Gaza war, portrayed Obama to the Israelis as a “pro-Palestinian,” who would not support their efforts (and, in private, disparaged Obama, referring to him at one point as someone who would “never make it in the major leagues”). But the Obama team let it be known that it would not object to the planned resupply of “smart bombs” and other high-tech ordnance that was already flowing to Israel. “It was Jones”—retired Marine General James Jones, at the time designated to be the President’s national-security adviser—“who came up with the solution and told Obama, ‘You just can’t tell the Israelis to get out.’ ” (General Jones said that he could not verify this account; Cheney’s office declined to comment.)

Has there been a more corrosive figure in our national politics in decades? And has there been anyone who's done more to harm the respective national interests of the United States and Israel?


Wednesday, April 08, 2009

"The big, big picture"

Elizabeth Warren, video star. I can't recommend this enough.

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The Bush Six

Jane Mayer on the English barrister who helped make the Spanish indictment of Feith, Addington, etc., happen.

It is hard to predict what will happen next, but, if arrest warrants are issued, the Obama Administration may be forced either to extradite the former officials or to start its own investigation. Sands, who admires Obama, said, “I regret that I have added to his in-box when he has so much else to sort out. But I hope he does the right thing. There’s not much dispute anymore: torture happened, and the law is clear—torture must be punished.”


Get around

Thnk of the Children...and Oklahoma

James M. Inhofe's (R-Global Warming Crankland) concern for future generations is fucking moving.

Members of Congress from Georgia and Oklahoma, where the jet and the Army project mean jobs, promised a fight. The arguments, which were frequently directed by Republicans against one of their own — Mr. Gates, one of two Republicans in President Obama’s cabinet — were cast in terms of national security and moral responsibility.

“F.C.S. is Army modernization,” Senator James M. Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, said of the Future Combat Systems, a program that links soldiers with weapons, robotic sensors, a communications network and combat vehicles. “Without it, we risk sending our sons and daughters into combat in vehicles that are second-rate and are less survivable and effective in combat. What price should we place on the lives of our children we send off to war?”

Mr. Inhofe had arranged for work on one of eight ground vehicles in the Army program to be done in Oklahoma, but Mr. Gates proposed scrapping that vehicle as well as the seven others. Government auditors have repeatedly criticized the vehicles as the worst part of a project troubled by cost overruns and questions about whether its technology is sound.

Bejeebus. Where does one start? The fact that this is the guy who commended Gates' predecessor, who once so famously quipped that "you go to war with the army you have"? Or the fact that Inhofe did not hesitate to chearlead the sending of "our children" off to war in a land of imaginary WMD? Or maybe the fact that Inhofe withdrew support for Jim Webb's 21st Century GI Bill amendment last year?

Think of the children, indeed.

And remember, this is a guy who quotes himself saying,

Sen. Jim Inhofe tells Newsmax that the stimulus package put together by President Barack Obama and the Democrats is in fact "7 percent stimulus and 93 percent spending."
He's as dumb as a nail, but since he said it: Where does his ongoing support for wasteful welfare for defense appropriations in Oklahoma fall?

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Fred Hiatt has long been on a mission to turn the WaPo's editorial page into irrelevancy. Seems that reporters at the paper are noticing.

The satellite data released by NASA and the National Snow and Ice Data Center show that the maximum extent of the 2008-2009 winter sea ice cover was the fifth-lowest since researchers began collecting such information 30 years ago. The past six years have produced the six lowest maximums in that record, and the new data show that the percentage of older, thicker and more persistent ice shrank to its lowest level ever, at just 9.8 percent of the winter ice cover.

"We're seeing an ice cover that's younger and that's thinner as we head into summer," Walt Meier, a scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, said in a telephone news conference. "It's been a pretty sharp decline."

The new evidence -- including satellite data showing that the average multiyear wintertime sea ice cover in the Arctic in 2005 and 2006 was nine feet thick, a significant decline from the 1980s -- contradicts data cited in widely circulated reports by Washington Post columnist George F. Will that sea ice in the Arctic has not significantly declined since 1979.


A "thumbs"

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Fake suicide explained

So this explains last night's weird episode of House.


Maybe they should have considered a venue other than the Strom Thurmond Room

The GOP's intriguing blackmail scheme

Indeed. Given all that we already know about the Bush administration's policy on torture, the more Congressional Republicans threaten the Obama administration not to release the "torture memos" the more I want to see them.


Sending code

I agree with Hilzoy that Ass Rocket, or whichever one he is, is the paragon of modern decency by declaring waterboarding akin to "getting your face wet."

So what was Obama's purpose in implying that until he came along, his own government was engaged in torturing prisoners? His speech was carried live by Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya, broadcast into countries where "torture" doesn't mean getting your face wet. Obama at least impliedly exaggerated the supposed sins of his predecessors and the "change" brought about by himself. Why? For what purpose? Isn't the campaign over?"

But I'd take it further. And yes, Frank Gaffney, Obama is sending code. But it's not "submission to sharia law." He's aware the speech was carried by AJ and AA -- he's telling viewers in Syria, Saudia Arabia, etc. that not only will the U.S. not torture prisoners, their own governments should consider stopping the practice as well.

Calling the entire Middle East "our enemies" has not gone so well for us. But old habits die hard and this new fangled idea of "engagement" as opposed to advertising campaigns is hard for ideologues and nut cases to wrap their brains around.


Profile in patience

The odd thing about this story is that it makes it seem as though the Obama administration is enjoying this long honeymoon with poll respondents through no actions of their own. That the "overexposure" Obama is often accused of may actually be bolstering confidence and that the actions his administration is taking may actually be perceived as having a chance to work.

With the poll finding that an overwhelming number think the recession will last a year or more, Mr. Obama may find he has a deep well of patience to draw on. The poll found that he shoulders virtually none of the public blame for the economic crisis: 33 percent blame Mr. Bush, 21 percent blame financial institutions, and 11 percent blame Congress.

By more than three to one, voters said they trusted Mr. Obama more than they trusted Congressional Republicans to make the right decisions about the economy. And by more than two to one, they said they trusted Mr. Obama to keep the nation safe, typically a Republican strong suit. Nearly one-quarter of Republicans said they trusted Mr. Obama more than Congressional Republicans to make the right decisions about the economy.

“As far as acting like adults and getting things done, the Democrat Party has done better,” said Rachel Beeson, an independent from Wahiawa, Hawaii. “The Republican Party seems to have decided that they are going to turn down anything that comes out of the White House, and nothing will get done that way.”

The poll showed signs of continued political division: 57 percent of people who said they voted for Senator John McCain in November said they disapproved of Mr. Obama’s performance. While Mr. Obama’s budget proposal enjoys the support of 56 percent of Americans over all, sentiments splinter along party lines: 79 percent of Democrats said his budget had the right priorities, compared with 27 percent of Republicans.

The other odd thing is -- not to encroach on Nate Silver territory -- they don't explain how those numbers could add up other than because there are fewer and fewer self-identified Republicans out there.

I guess they would reply to both complaints by saying this is news not news analysis.


Monday, April 06, 2009

Red scare

Dean Baker disagrees with Paul Krugman, noting that the Chinese can't suddenly have been "surprised" that they could lose money on the US dollar investments. Baker argues that China saw the value of the dollar plunge a year ago and did nothing to hedge their bets; in fact, the Chinese have long used the dollar to keep their own currency value low and hence keep the prices of Chinese goods for US consumers quite low.

Most importantly, Baker argues that China's "threats" about the US getting its finances in order is being used as the latest cudgel over "entitlements."

Anyhow, the reason why the distinction between the China surprise versus strategy view is important is that the bad guys are already using the China threat as an argument to cut Social Security and Medicare. The argument goes that if we don't get our budget in order (i.e. cut Social Security and Medicare) then the Chinese will pull the plug on us. The Peter Peterson crew have already been vigorously pushing this line.

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Blue Monday, Gene Vincent edition

Saturday, April 04, 2009

The Yankee Stadium

Shorter Joel Sherman: Sure, the new Yankee Stadium is a really nice place to see a baseball game, but where's the ivy-covered wall? And while nobody could have foreseen..., they make me sick.

The new Yankee Stadium has just about everything you would want in a modern sports facility, except charm and a sense of proportion.

If you can afford the prices, you should have a good time there. The sightlines are wonderful. The large screen in center field is so clear you really do feel as if you could reach out and touch the people on it. The concourses are wide, and the food choices abundant.

Yet the place brought nausea, not nostalgia. It just feels like the wrong time in the history of this country and this city to be opening up the George Mahal. When the project was initiated 2 ½ years ago, the Yankees could not have known what the state of the economy was going to be now.

As one caller put it on WFAN this morning, "the Yankees don't do charm."

Madame Cura and I visited the place this morning and afternoon found the place, overall to be -- and this is kinda important -- a really nice place to watch a ballgame. No, it ain't quaint. It has no quirks (except some weird pedestrian bottlenecks to get to the bleacher seats. The facade of the building is certain not retro the way Camden Yards is. It's more neo-modernist -- monumental yet streamlined (and very nearly identical to the original circa 1923). The sight lines are fantastic, and as you wander around the concourses, the game is never out of sight (even standing in line, there are TVs over the vendors). We sat in the fourth deck (under a roof and the great canter levered filigree that also recreates a unique aspect of the original), and didn't feel like we were on a ski jump as it used to feel like in the old building post remodel. And the view out over center field (on either side of the hi-def) is the urban viewscape of the elevated train, brownstones, and rooftop water tanks. It ain't McCovey Cove or the sunset over Seattle, but it's unlike anything else in baseball -- it's still The Bronx. And it is still the corporate headquarters of baseball -- efficient and focused on the play on the field.

I was surprised was there wasn't any tie in with a New York restaurant, such as Citi Field's Blue Smoke bbq. There is a Hard Rock Cafe, but we wandered all over and never saw an entrance, and anyway, HRC sucks and I mean something you can eat at your seat. Shun Lee Palace chinese would be nice, for instance. Or steak sandwiches from Peter Luger (oh, right, that's Brooklyn...wouldn't be appropriate). Better yet, this would be perfect. A little imagination in the food department wouldn't take away from the game.


Neo-Hooverite performance art

It's appropriate that this story appears in the NYT's Arts section, not Business or Politics.

This week competing theories about the Depression and the New Deal were once again on display at a conference at the Council on Foreign Relations’ New York headquarters, co-hosted by the Leonard N. Stern School of Business at New York University, and partly organized by Ms. Shlaes.

Didn't the CFR used to be a respected organization?

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Friday, April 03, 2009

Not fade away

For Djuna

UPDATE: Didn't mean to give the impression that Djuna has gone to the great boneyard in the sky. Apologies to readers. She's just sorta fading away, physically.

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Wednesday, April 01, 2009

A mighty forest fire, or something

Stimulus thinking

Nice to see David Leonhardt take on the neo-Hooverites.

The objections to stimulus tend to come in two forms: Its costs are too high, and its benefits too small.

Mr. Topolanek and German officials have been pressing the first argument. They say that the additional government spending can lead to inflation and government debt. The Weimar Republic of the 1920s, where inflation helped lead to Hitler’s rise, casts a long shadow.

Stimulus opponents here in the United States — mainly Congressional Republicans (though not, tellingly, Republican governors of some large states) — have been warning about debt, too. But they have also been making the second argument. When the government spends money, they say, it simply displaces spending by the private sector. Republicans on Capitol Hill have taken to citing a recent book by the journalist Amity Shlaes, “The Forgotten Man,” which claims the New Deal didn’t work.

Theoretically, neither of these arguments is crazy. But they don’t have much evidence on their side.

The best takedown of Ms. Shlaes’s thesis came from Eric Rauchway, a historian, who pointed out that her favorite statistic did not count people employed by New Deal programs to be employed. Excluding the effects of the medicine, the patient is as sick as ever! [sic]

When Roosevelt stuck to a stimulus program, unemployment fell markedly, and the biggest stimulus of all — World War II — did the rest. It’s true that economic models say the economy shouldn’t work this way. When resources are sitting idle, businesses should find a way to use them profitably. But they often don’t.

People become irrationally pessimistic during a downturn. They are driven by what Keynes called animal spirits. Only government can typically change the dynamic.

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Giving Geithner a chance

Via Professor DeLong, Nouriel Roubini and Matthew Richardson think Geithner's plan, while not perfect and the going still perilous, a step in the right direction. It's worth reading.

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The GOP's commitment to free and fair elections

On the same day Minnesota courts dealt one more blow to Stormin' Norm, in NY20, Tedisco filed suit before the polls were closed.


First they came for my dishwashing detergent, and I said nothing

Heckuva job

The Bush administration Dept. of Justice -- the incompetent gift that keeps on giving.

WASHINGTON – The Justice Department said Wednesday it would drop corruption charges against former Sen. Ted Stevens because prosecutors withheld evidence from the senator's defense team during his trial.

The reversal is an embarrassment for the department, which won a conviction against the Alaska Republican in October and is now asking to overturn it.

The week after his conviction, Stevens lost his Senate seat in the November election. The patriarch of Alaska politics since before statehood, Stevens, 85, was also the longest serving Republican senator.

He has been awaiting sentencing.

Stevens was convicted of seven felony counts of lying on Senate financial disclosure forms to conceal hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts and home renovations from a wealthy oil contractor.

The trial was beset by government missteps, which continued even after the guilty verdict was read. The trial judge grew so infuriated he took the unusual step of holding the Justice Department in contempt.

In court filings, the Justice Department admitted it never turned over notes from an interview with the oil contractor, who estimated the value of the renovation work as far less than he testified at trial.

"I have determined that it is in the interest of justice to dismiss the indictment and not proceed with a new trial," Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement released Wednesday. He said the department must ensure that all cases are "handled fairly and consistent with its commitment to justice."

The Justice Department is investigating the conduct of the prosecutors who tried the Stevens case.

I don't think anyone really wanted to see the Hulk in jail, anyway, just as long as he's out of the Senate.

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