Saturday, October 31, 2009

Every kind of game

Sam Borden got tired of hearing about how many big games Andy Pettitte had thrown in postseason over the years that he decided to quantify it. A remarkable career.

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Squirters, or defining terrorism

Sect'y Clinton faces critics of U.S. foreign policy in Pakistan:

During a live broadcast of an interview before a predominantly female audience of several hundred, Clinton struggled to avoid describing the classified U.S. effort to target terrorists, and still try to explain the efforts of American foreign policy.

One woman asked Clinton how she would define terrorism.

''Is it the killing of people in drone attacks?'' the woman asked. Then she asked if Clinton considered both the U.S. missile strikes and militant bombings like the one that killed more than 100 civilians in the city of Peshawar earlier in the week as acts of terrorism.

''No, I do not,'' Clinton replied.


Asked repeatedly about the drones, a subject that involves highly classified CIA operations, Clinton said only that ''there is a war going on.'' She added that the Obama administration is committed to helping Pakistan defeat the insurgents.

From Jane Mayer's astonishing reporting on the CIA's classified drone program.

It’s easy to understand the appeal of a “push-button” approach to fighting Al Qaeda, but the embrace of the Predator program has occurred with remarkably little public discussion, given that it represents a radically new and geographically unbounded use of state-sanctioned lethal force. And, because of the C.I.A. program’s secrecy, there is no visible system of accountability in place, despite the fact that the agency has killed many civilians inside a politically fragile, nuclear-armed country with which the U.S. is not at war. Should something go wrong in the C.I.A.’s program—last month, the Air Force lost control of a drone and had to shoot it down over Afghanistan—it’s unclear what the consequences would be.

The Predators in the C.I.A. program are “flown” by civilians, both intelligence officers and private contractors. According to a former counterterrorism official, the contractors are “seasoned professionals—often retired military and intelligence officials.” (The intelligence agency outsources a significant portion of its work.) Within the C.I.A., control of the unmanned vehicles is split among several teams. One set of pilots and operators works abroad, near hidden airfields in Afghanistan and Pakistan, handling takeoffs and landings. Once the drones are aloft, the former counterterrorism official said, the controls are electronically “slewed over” to a set of “reachback operators,” in Langley. Using joysticks that resemble video-game controls, the reachback operators—who don’t need conventional flight training—sit next to intelligence officers and watch, on large flat-screen monitors, a live video feed from the drone’s camera. From their suburban redoubt, they can turn the plane, zoom in on the landscape below, and decide whether to lock onto a target. A stream of additional “signal” intelligence, sent to Langley by the National Security Administration, provides electronic means of corroborating that a target has been correctly identified. The White House has delegated trigger authority to C.I.A. officials, including the head of the Counter-Terrorist Center, whose identity remains veiled from the public because the agency has placed him under cover.

People who have seen an air strike live on a monitor described it as both awe-inspiring and horrifying. “You could see these little figures scurrying, and the explosion going off, and when the smoke cleared there was just rubble and charred stuff,” a former C.I.A. officer who was based in Afghanistan after September 11th says of one attack. (He watched the carnage on a small monitor in the field.) Human beings running for cover are such a common sight that they have inspired a slang term: “squirters.”

Although Ms. Clinton was reluctant to divulge details on the secret program, according to Mayer, the CIA is working with Pakistani inelligence. But no matter how drone attacks in a country with which we are not at war is defined, I'm pretty sure those "squirters" have to be defined as "terrorized."


Lying liars

Didn't Martha Stewart do time for lying to investigators? Of course, that was for insider trading, not something as banal as identifying a covert CIA operative.


Friday, October 30, 2009

Wish harder

David Brooks offers no suggestions for political reform in Afghanistan, no ideas on how many troops would be needed to protect aid workers, no thoughts on who we are actually fighting there, but he does offer a key insight: Obama may be a sophisticated thinker but he lacks the "tenacity" to "be a war president" and "win in Afghanistan."

No, that's not "shorter David Brooks."

For the past few days I have tried to do what journalists are supposed to do.

I’ve called around to several of the smartest military experts I know to get their views on these controversies. I called retired officers, analysts who have written books about counterinsurgency warfare, people who have spent years in Afghanistan. I tried to get them to talk about the strategic choices facing the president. To my surprise, I found them largely uninterested.

Most of them have no doubt that the president is conducting an intelligent policy review. They have no doubt that he will come up with some plausible troop level.

They are not worried about his policy choices. Their concerns are more fundamental. They are worried about his determination.

These people, who follow the war for a living, who spend their days in military circles both here and in Afghanistan, have no idea if President Obama is committed to this effort. They have no idea if he is willing to stick by his decisions, explain the war to the American people and persevere through good times and bad.

I'm thrilled he's doing what "journalists are supposed to do," by that I guess he means attributing anonymous quotes to "experts" known as "they." And like many "journalists" during our current endless war, the "experts" he speaks to "follow the war for a living," meaning they rely on constant war to make a living. Well played, sir.

Obama's "determination" won't do anything to overcome the lack of a coherent strategy for ending what Matthew Hoh, in his resignation letter, calls a 35 year civil war, nor will it overcome the lack of legitimacy of the country's political leadership.

Ah, but back to Brooks as he tells us how "winnable" the war would be if only Obama would squeeze his eyes shut and wish harder.

Finally, they do not understand the president’s fundamental read on the situation. Most of them, like most people who have spent a lot of time in Afghanistan, believe this war is winnable. They do not think it will be easy or quick. But they do have a bedrock conviction that the Taliban can be stymied and that the governments in Afghanistan and Pakistan can be strengthened. But they do not know if Obama shares this gut conviction or possesses any gut conviction on this subject at all.

The experts I spoke with describe a vacuum at the heart of the war effort — a determination vacuum. And if these experts do not know the state of President Obama’s resolve, neither do the Afghan villagers. They are now hedging their bets, refusing to inform on Taliban force movements because they are aware that these Taliban fighters would be their masters if the U.S. withdraws. Nor does President Hamid Karzai know. He’s cutting deals with the Afghan warlords he would need if NATO leaves his country.

Nor do the Pakistanis or the Iranians or the Russians know. They are maintaining ties with the Taliban elements that would represent their interests in the event of a U.S. withdrawal.

No mention of China? Cambodia? Laos?

Shit, the Karzai government is not the only one who's been cutting deals with the warlords, the U.S. has been doing it since October 2001. Your mileage may vary.

So I guess the president’s most important meeting is not the one with the Joint Chiefs and the cabinet secretaries. It’s the one with the mirror, in which he looks for some firm conviction about whether Afghanistan is worthy of his full and unshakable commitment. If the president cannot find that core conviction, we should get out now. It would be shameful to deploy more troops only to withdraw them later. If he does find that conviction, then he should let us know, and fill the vacuum that is eroding the chances of success.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal has said that counterinsurgency is “an argument to win the support of the people.” But it’s not an argument won through sophisticated analysis. It’s an argument won through the display of raw determination.

For chrissakes, the U.S. has displayed "raw determination" just in my lifetime in more benighted countries than I can count on two hands. Usually it comes in the form of an overwhelming military presence, predator drones, hellfire missiles, and "stress positions."

Our eight years of "tenacity" in Afghanistan has made the U.S. military the ideological underpinning of the Pashtun "insurgency." Writes Hoh, who resigned as Senior Civilian Representative in Zabul Province,

Eight years into war, no nation has ever known a more dedicated, well trained, experienced and disciplined military as the U.S. Armed Forces. I do not believe any military force has evern been tasked with such a complex, opaque and Sisyphean mission as the U.S. military has received in Afghanistan. The tactical proficiency and performance of our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines is unmatched and unquestioned. However, this is not the European or Pacific theaters of World War II,but rather is a war for which our leaders, uniformed, civilian and elected, have inadequately prepared and resourced our men and women. Our forces, devoted and faithful, have been committed to conflict in an indefinite and unplanned manner that has become a cavalier, politically expedient and Pollyannish misadventure. Similarly, the United States has a dedicated cadre of civilians, both U.S. government emplooyees and contractors, who believe in and sacrifice for their mission, but have been ineffectually trained and led with guidance and intent shaped more by the political climate in Washington, D.C. than in Afghan cities, villages, mountains and valleys.

I hope Obama thinks about that as he looks in the mirror, not a contemplation of his own manly "determination" and "tenacity." We had seven years of that self-admiration and Brooks cheered on that "War President" even as he took our focus off of Afghanistan to level Iraq in The Great Hunt for old chemical weapons. Brooks cheered him on right up until it was no longer possible to cheer and be considered sane in polite company.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Dilated bats

Sorry for the lack of posts, but had an eye exam today and my eyes look like I've dropped belladonna in them.

Cliff Lee,, what can you say. 10 K, no Walks -- the first pitcher to do that while winning a World Serious game since 1903. And Chase Utley -- Sabathia wasn't sharp all night, and I looked with horror on both pitches C.C. was aiming to put underneath Utley's hands as they drifted over The Heart Of The Plate. But still...

Only Utley made him pay. He was the first left-hander to hit a homer off Sabathia at Yankee Stadium this season, and just the second to hit two homers off a lefty in the same World Series game. The last to do it? Babe Ruth. “Well,” Utley said, smiling, “I guess that’s pretty good company.”

Tonight, Petey's in the house. Hopefully Burnett won't get blowed up.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A drop in which bucket?

I usually respect David Leonhardt's columns, but I wonder why he complains about the administration's plans to give SS recipients an additional $250, but has nothing to say about the home buyer's credit. The former, seems to me, puts a little extra pocket money into seniors' pockets, a group that votes and spends at Wal-Mart. The latter only maintains inflated home prices, the bubble that burst in the first place. A fact, Mr. Baker never tires of pointing out, the media seems to still be blissfully unaware.


Our landlord in Afghanistan

If we want a strong, centralized government in Afghanistan; if we want to deny the Taliban the benefits of the poppy and opium trade; if we want a Karzai government that appears legitimate to Afghans; if we don't want to look like just the latest in a long line of oppressive occupiers; this does not seem like the way to go about any of those things.

More broadly, some American officials argue that the reliance on Ahmed Wali Karzai, the most powerful figure in a large area of southern Afghanistan where the Taliban insurgency is strongest, undermines the American push to develop an effective central government that can maintain law and order and eventually allow the United States to withdraw.

“If we are going to conduct a population-centric strategy in Afghanistan, and we are perceived as backing thugs, then we are just undermining ourselves,” said Maj. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, the senior American military intelligence official in Afghanistan.

Ahmed Wali Karzai said in an interview that he cooperated with American civilian and military officials, but did not engage in the drug trade and did not receive payments from the C.I.A.

The relationship between Mr. Karzai and the C.I.A. is wide ranging, several American officials said. He helps the C.I.A. operate a paramilitary group, the Kandahar Strike Force, that is used for raids against suspected insurgents and terrorists. On at least one occasion, the strike force has been accused of mounting an unauthorized operation against an official of the Afghan government, the officials said.

Mr. Karzai is also paid for allowing the C.I.A. and American Special Operations troops to rent a large compound outside the city — the former home of Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban’s founder. The same compound is also the base of the Kandahar Strike Force. “He’s our landlord,” a senior American official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Just another heaping pile of Fail left over from the previous administration.


A less whiter shade of pale

It's been so long since the Yankees and Phillies have met in the Serious, Cliff Corcoran reminds us, that the last time they met, in 1950, they fielded two all-white teams.

That fact is not as trivial as it might sound. The Yankees’ struggles in the late 1960s and early 1970s had several sources, including the institution of the amateur draft and the corporate ownership of CBS, but their failure to properly exploit the African American talent pool was undeniably a contributing factor. When they finally emerged from that slumber, it was with black stars such as Mickey Rivers, Willie Randolph, Chris Chambliss, Roy White, Oscar Gamble, and Gamble’s replacement, Reggie Jackson.

Similarly, the Phillies’ surprising pennant in 1950 fed the organization’s resistance to integration. The 1950 Whiz Kids got their name not only because they won the pennant, but because they were the youngest team in the National League on both sides of the ball. In fact, the 1950 Phillies were the youngest pennant winners ever. The Phillies’ oldest regular was first baseman Eddie Waitkus (the player whose shooting the previous year inspired The Natural). Just one of the six men to make more than ten starts for them was over the age of 26, and future Hall of Famers Richie Ashburn and Robin Roberts were both just 23.

Assuming that young squad would only get better with age, the Phillies didn’t even begin scouting black players until 1954, when Roy Hamey took over as general manager following four seasons in which the Phillies finished between third and fifth place. The Phillies didn’t field their first black player until 1957, didn’t have an African-American starter until 1961, and didn’t have an African-American star until the arrival of Richie Allen in 1964.

That was awful timing for Allen, who despite one of the best rookie campaigns in major league history, fell victim to the Phillies infamous Phlop, in which they blew a 6.5-game lead over the final dozen games of the season thanks to a ten-game losing streak (during which Allen hit .415/.442/.634). Allen’s ensuing battles with the Philadelphia faithful as well as the organization’s brutal treatment of Jackie Robinson back in 1947 were key factors in Curt Flood’s decision to refuse to report to the Phillies after being traded from the Cardinals, ironically for Dick Allen, after the 1969 season. The Phillies wouldn’t return to the postseason until 1976 (again ironically with Dick Allen back in the fold as their first baseman), and despite the Philadelphia fans’ affection for center fielder Gary Maddox and a late-career cameo by Hall of Famer Joe Morgan on the superannuated 1983 pennant winners, the Phillies didn’t have a black superstar who was embraced by the city until the arrivals of Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard in the new millennium.

Actually, Cliff, it didn't sound all that "trivial," anyway. And I guess Allie "Superchief" Reynolds doesn't count as a person of color then.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Electric Slugger


A serious man

Shorter Fred Hiatt: No one knows how to contain health care costs, so it would be wrong to try...look over there!.

Peter Orzag has had enough
of this weasels beltway complacency and misinformation masquerading as a newspaper editorial page.

Peter Orszag: Fred Hiatt... writing... that the two biggest steps that can be taken to reduce the rate of health care cost growth--changes in health care’s tax treatment and an independent Medicare commission--are missing. I agree with Hiatt on the potential substantial benefits in terms of cost containment from these two changes. But a note... the Senate Finance Committee bill includes both of these measures... creates an excise tax on insurance companies offering high-premium plans--which would create a strong incentive for more efficient plans that would help reduce the growth of premiums... establishes a Medicare commission--which would develop and submit proposals to Congress aimed at extending the solvency of Medicare, slowing Medicare cost growth, and improving the quality of care delivered to Medicare beneficiaries. If [Fred Hiatt's] concern is that these two provisions would not survive the rest of the congressional process, then [Fred Hiatt should] say that--rather than suggesting that they aren’t already reflected in legislation. Moreover, as I blogged a couple of weeks ago, the Senate Finance Committee’s bill is not the only measure that includes important cost constraining provisions... that experts from across the spectrum agree will help transform health care... penalties for hospitals with high, preventable 30-day readmission rates... encouraging the establishment of accountable care organizations... bundled payments for high-cost, chronic conditions.... Hiatt writes that "no one knows for sure how to control costs." True, we have never transformed the health sector before, and it is therefore difficult to quantify precisely how these steps will work together to promote quality and reduce cost growth. But it is wrong to conclude that these steps--even the ones beyond the excise tax on high-cost plans and the Medicare commission--are merely hypothetical pie in the sky.

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Terms of service

Pesky things like "agreements," otherwise known as "contracts," continue to foil Republicans and they continue to misunderstand the term "freedom of speech."

Via Sullivan.

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How to write your senator

Notice, I refrain from calling him an asshole.

Sen. Lieberman, I am disappointed that, regardless of what you think of the current health care bill, you would even suggest supporting a GOP filibuster. When you last ran, you promised to caucus with the Democratic Party and to support its agenda. Nothing is more fundamental to the party's agenda -- in fact the nation's agenda, than universal health care, not to mention health care reform. Your vote on the final bill is irrelevant, your vote on cloture is not. Allow democracy to proceed. Republican obstructionism is not popular in your home state.

You can contact him, too.


Ross Douthat's latest screenplay

Stolen from my comment to "Doghouse" Riley...cause that's how I roll.


This could be the real significance of last week’s invitation. What’s being interpreted, for now, as an intra-Christian skirmish may eventually be remembered as the first step toward a united Anglican-Catholic front — not against liberalism or atheism, but against Christianity’s most enduring and impressive foe.


If the Anglicans can have female and teh gay bishops, the Islamoscaryfascists -- our implacable foe -- have won!

What a rich fantasy life. Kind of like Red Dawn meets...I dunno...the Bells of St. Mary's?

Go read Doghouse. He's funnier and smartier.

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A Fox in the hen house

I haven't felt much like weighing in on the whole "White House Wages War Against Fox News" because a) between baseball and work, I've been busy and my attention has been elsewhere, and b) it's stupid; everyone knows Fox News -- run by "former" RNC operative Roger Ailes (and no, not the good one), comprises the communications and oppo intel arms of the Republican party. With the possible exception of Shepard Smith, it now exists solely to undermine the legitimacy of the Obama administration and to obstruct democratic legislation in Congress.

But Paul Waldman gets to the real issue raised by this amusing contretemps.

What's really been revealed in this little dustup is the way television journalists think that they should get to follow a set of rules different from the set their colleagues whose work appears in other media follow.


At times like this, you see what a thin understanding many people have of the First Amendment. Fox has the right to say anything it likes and report in whatever manner it chooses. That's a right it exercises every day. But freedom of speech and the press also means that other people are allowed to criticize you for the manner in which you exercise your rights. People can suggest that your reporting is slanted or say that your adherence to the facts is inadequate or even call you a bunch of jerks, and they haven't infringed on your right to speak and report.

What has the administration actually done to Fox? It hasn't tried to censor the network. It hasn't forbidden Fox reporters from entering the White House -- those reporters are still there, doing their jobs. Obama staffers have -- brace yourself -- criticized them. Egad!

The White House has also decided, as Axelrod said, to stop pretending that Fox is a legitimate news organization. So when Obama did a round of interviews on the Sunday shows a few weeks ago, he neglected to add Fox News Sunday to the list. Is that a choice the White House doesn't have the right to make? No one would argue that Obama has some sort of duty to give interviews to Rush Limbaugh or National Review, just as no one expected George W. Bush to sit down for a chat with Keith Olbermann or The Nation. Yet for some reason, the fact that Fox is a television network is supposed to confer upon the president an obligation to treat it with deference. No such obligation exists.

Yes, Fox broadcasts pictures as well as words. Reporters for television networks may be better paid, dressed, and coiffed than their ink-stained counterparts from the print media, but the fact that their faces appear on television doesn't mean they should be subject to a set of rules different from the one other journalists follow.

The fact that representatives of the other TV networks are defending Fox and screaming "censorship (the First Amendment, as Waldman notes, gives Fox News idiots the right to say -- or bawl -- what they think, not the right to a presidential interview)," shows just how corrupt their view of themselves and their role in the political discourse really is.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Who cares?

I'm late to the party, but I have to say, Vice President Biden speaks for me:

Mr. Biden shrugged off Mr. Cheney’s point that the old administration had left behind a review of Afghanistan.

“Who cares what — ” he said, and then stopped himself to find another way to put it. (“I can see the headline now,” said the famously free-wheeling vice president. “I’m getting better, guys.”)

But he went on to dismiss the Bush-Cheney review as inadequate. “That’s why the president asked me to get in the plane in January and go to Afghanistan,” Mr. Biden said. “I came back with a different review.”
Compare and contrast Joe Biden's disregard for the cranky crank, who single-handedly came close to destroying the reputation, treasure, and armed forces of the United States of America, with former VP Dick Cheney's disregard for the citizens of said USA:

US Vice President Dick Cheney says he is not concerned about the views the American public holds on the long-drawn-out war in Iraq.

In an interview with ABC's Good Morning America, when the White House correspondent said polls show that two-thirds of Americans believe the war is not worth fighting, Cheney responded with a 'so?'
I report. You decide.

UPDATE for a wee bit more clarity

UPDATED again for link

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"An epidemic of medical marijuana"

The problem, as The Lede commenter, Mac, writes, is not that young men in their 20s are suddenly hit with aches, pains, and depression, but rather that they have to "discover" these ailments in order to get a safe, secure supply of part of...a plant.

And this strikes me as odd. If states politicians are concerned about the need to suddenly regulate medical marijuana dispensaries (or else!), isn't that what taxes paid on regulated products are for.

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Blue Monday, Ella Fitzgerald edition

The Boss speaks

A rare missive from Der Steinbrenner:

"The Yankees' enormous will to win, tremendous professionalism and great team spirit, backed by the best, most vocal and supportive fans have propelled us into the World Series. We're looking forward to our 27th ring."

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The Yankees win the pennant! The Yankees win the pennant!

Watching Mariano Rivera standing at the top step of the dugout spraying champagne is going to be one of my favorite scenes of the 2009 season, especially after watching the same guy pitch two innings for the save. And three runs on no hits in the bottom eighth due to some wacky Halo fielding made the ninth a cakewalk as opposed to a nail-biter which in turn made it no less sweet.

Great game. Great performances by Andy Pettitte and Mo, born in 1970 and 1969, respectively (with an assist by Joba Chamberlain, born 22 years ago, or something).


Saturday, October 24, 2009

Too much time to think

Are the cracks found in the new, $1 billion dollar stadium's pedestrian ramps a metaphor for the cracks emerging in the bullpen's bridge to Mariano?

The ramps were built by a company accused of having links to the mob, and the concrete mix was designed and tested by a company under indictment on charges that it failed to perform some tests and falsified the results of others. But it is unclear whether work performed by either firm contributed to the deteriorating conditions of the ramps.

The Yankees have hired an engineering company to take samples from the ramps — they ascend from field level to the stadium’s upper tiers, carrying thousands of people each game — to determine the cause and the extent of the problems as the team finishes its first season in the new stadium and prepares for what could be its first World Series there.

A spokeswoman for the team, Alice McGillion, called the cracks “cosmetic,” saying that they posed no safety issues because they did not affect the structural integrity of the ramps. She characterized the work to repair the problems as “routine remediation,” which she said was “usual in this kind of building or in any other building.”

It's been raining most of the afternoon, but the forecast indicates it may a bit less wet tonight.

Let's go Yan-kees...

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Rainy day

NY-23 and the GOP schism

Is this a taste of what's to come for the GOP?


Friday, October 23, 2009

A bitter Christmas awaits us

This is why you should try The Nation. Maybe you'll stay to subscribe.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Republican economic illiteracy

As with so many issues, one is left to wonder if Republicans are cynically pushing an issue they know not to be an issue or if they are just ignorant -- in this case of basic economics. We are deep into a trough of massive trade imbalances, and yet the latest Republican meme is that Obama is destroying the country by way of a weakening dollar. I suspect, in the case of Palin and Drudge, the answer to the question is a little bit of both: they are cynical and ignorant.

As a party, they must be kept as far away as possible from governing this country.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"Leftist abuse"

Hey kids, report a "leftist abuse" and you could win $100!

Not sure what constitutes a "leftist abuse (socks and birkenstocks come to mind)?" They contest organizers provide a helpful list, including such egregiousness as...

  • Overwhelmingly leftist faculty.
  • Overwhelmingly leftist administrators who actively suppress conservative activities and refuse to address grievances from students who suffer persecution for their conservative beliefs.
  • Leftist domination of most student government associations.
  • Leftist domination of "student courts" which decide issues regarding student government actions and persecute students for activities in behalf of conservative principles.


  • Large numbers of courses presented that explicitly in their catalog descriptions push leftist ideology, but no balance of conservative principles offered in the curriculum.
  • Indoctrination of students in class by faculty who promote socialist ideas and other leftist priorities.
  • Leftist faculty using their class time to preach politics instead of teaching the topic at hand.
  • Faculty who express in class blatant contempt of conservative ideas.
But, of course we all know by now what really freaks these people out about "campus life" and "lefties:" They just didn't get any when they were in college.

Mandatory seminars for students on how to have "safe sex" with little or no mention of the possibility or merits of abstinence or marriage.


"An easy call"

Weird game, but I'll take it. Carsten Charles Sabathia and Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez are scary good this October, and they are hiding a multitude of Yankee fail. So be it.

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NJ voters: listen to Omar


"A toxic combination"

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Not stimulus

I don't think I was alone in guessing that the White House, like most economists, didn't feel the $700 billion stimulus package was enough, but it was all that was politically feasible. Nor was I alone in guessing that they would find smaller spending and tax credit fixes as they monitored the economy, particularly jobs recovery.

That seems to be happening.

Driving the call for more stimulus efforts is the unemployment rate, which now sits at 9.8%, and is expected to rise into next year, even though the recession may have already officially ended. Republicans, who have long been critical of the $787 billion stimulus that passed in February, are likely to support some, if not most of these new spending programs, in part because they are politically popular. Texas Republican John Cornyn, a vocal opponent of the February stimulus, said recently that he was in favor of some more federal spending efforts. "I think there are things we need to do to help people who need help," he said Oct. 4 on ABC's This Week.

Other Republicans, like economist Kevin Hassett, a former adviser to McCain's presidential campaign, say it might be better to focus on policy fixes that could have long-term impacts, not just short-term impacts. "You can have a stimulus every quarter from now until we go bankrupt," Hassett said. "But would that be good policy?"

I shudder to think where we'd be with a President McCain.

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"Fraudulent press activity"

Representing the "sane positions" the CoC should be taking. Brilliant bit of political theater there.


"Reply all"

As Ezra notes, Sen. Wyden's carving out a very interesting position for himself and making Harry Reid and Max Baucus very annoyed, I'm sure. All on behalf of good policy. How weird.

Wyden, however, is a liberal in a safe seat. And he's not even that liberal. By all rights, he shouldn't be causing anyone any headaches. But he's beginning to fashion a reputation for himself not as a crusader against liberal policies, but against bad policy compromises. That makes everyone's life more difficult, because the Senate pretty much runs on bad policy compromises, and the people making those compromises prefer it if they're not pointed out. Indeed, as the talking points show, they sometimes try and pretend those compromises were never made at all. But Wyden keeps pointing them out, and loudly. And as he develops a reputation for being an independent policy voice, he's becoming more popular with the media, which is further amplifying his criticisms. It's an important role for somebody to be playing, but I imagine Wyden is going to start getting yelled at a whole lot.

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Or the "dagger in the back legend," translated into the softer "pull the rug out from under us," but the intent may be the same.

A retired general who served in Iraq said that the military had listened, “perhaps naïvely,” to Mr. Obama’s campaign promises that the Afghan war was critical. “What’s changed, and are we having the rug pulled out from under us?” he asked. Like many of those interviewed for this article, he spoke on the condition of anonymity because of fear of reprisals from the military’s civilian leadership and the White House.

In what form such retaliation against a retired officer would take is not mentioned.

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Way too much classic

Emma Span, twittering last night's yesterday's Angels/Yankees game:

This game is such an emotional roller coaster, there should be a "You must be this tall" sign to get by just to watch.

UPDATED for clarity.


Stop making sense!

Michael Steele: "We have the best health care system in the country."


Spittle flecked and dangerous

The Secret Service is so overwhelmed by threats against the president and his family that the agency may have to stop investigating financial crimes, according to a report in the Boston Globe.

The Southern Poverty Law Center says that antigovernment militias and white supremacist groups have strengthened in recent years, responding to an increasingly diverse population and what they see as an expanding government.

A center study released in August found a nearly 35 percent growth in racially based domestic hate groups since 2000 - from 602 to 926. The center concluded that opposition to Obama’s election has only increased the phenomenon.

“A key difference this time is that the federal government - the entity that almost the entire radical right views as its primary enemy - is headed by a black man,’’ the report said. “One result has been a remarkable rash of domestic terror incidents since the presidential campaign, most of them related to anger over the election of Barack Obama.’’

Threatening language has also found its way into talk radio broadcasts and social networking websites, raising fears that individuals not normally considered threats to the president could be incited to violence.

For example, the Secret Service in recent months has investigated a poll posted on Facebook about whether Obama should be killed. It has interviewed a Florida radio talk show host after a caller mentioned ammunition, target practice, and the president, and federal officials have raised concerns about several instances in which protesters carrying weapons showed up at Obama events, including a man at an August town hall in New Hampshire.

I'm sure Meghan McArdle and other libertarians will find this phenomenon encouraging since now we'll be able to identify whom we need to argue with calmly at presidential appearances.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

They hate us for our freedoms

Not because a large minority of Americans support the bombing and invading of a sixth Muslim country. For all the Beck and Limbaugh rantings about the United Nations and "One World Government," in truth Americans believe there really is one world government, or at least one that matters and should be obeyed -- ours.

Or, to put it in a more Pulitzer Prize winning way: Suck. On. This.


We're off to see the Wizard

Phil Ellis, the man behind the curtain.

Sometimes the projections are straightforward. If lawmakers want to impose a $6 billion tax on health insurance companies, the CBO -- and its revenue-estimating partner, the Joint Committee on Taxation -- assumes that it will generate $6 billion a year. Other provisions are more complex, and that is Phil Ellis's world.

Ellis heads the CBO's health insurance modeling unit, which examines plans to expand coverage to people who don't have it. The team's primary job is figuring what it would cost the government. But to do that, Ellis and his colleagues have to predict how people and businesses would react to a bewildering array of new economic incentives.

To help with this task, the CBO has constructed a computer model built on a government survey of 70,000 people, who were asked about family structure, health status and insurance options. The data are layered with scholarly research that suggests how those people might respond to various policies. The CBO also has assigned each worker to a "synthetic firm," whose virtual executives also have decisions to make, such as whether to offer insurance to their workers or pay a penalty to the government.

Ellis compares the model to SimCity, a computer game that reacts as players construct a virtual metropolis. Ideas go in (What happens if there's a $750 fine for not having insurance?), and a forecast comes out (Some people would choose to pay it, generating about $1 billion a year for the government.). Each legislative package contains dozens of such provisions, and they interact in infinitely variable ways.

Via young master Klein.


Blue Monday, Otis Spann edition

With the Muddy Waters Band.

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Bloomberg goes there

The only negative aspects of watching the Yankees over the weekend was seeing the repeated shots of the cadaverous visage of Rudolph Giuliana in the front row.

And now he's back, appearing on the stump with Bloomberg, reminding us that if a black man is again allowed to be mayor of the city, then we'll be right back to the era when Shaft was walking through Times Square.

Mr. Giuliani did not mention Mr. Bloomberg’s Democratic challenger, William C. Thompson Jr., by name. But during the first of two campaign events alongside Mr. Bloomberg, he said that not long ago many parts of the city were gripped by “the fear of going out at night and walking the streets.”

“You know exactly what I’m talking about,” Mr. Giuliani said at a breakfast sponsored by the Jewish Community Council in Borough Park, Brooklyn. “This city could very easily be taken back in a very different direction — it could very easily be taken back to the way it was with the wrong political leadership.”

Bloomberg's spent a trillion dollars (approximately) on his reelection against an opponent who is as hapless a politician as you'll ever see, and yet he cannot resist an opportunity to double down on the nastiness. It shows about as much good judgment as his decision to sort of run for president last year on the Lieberman for Connecticut ticket (or something).


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Another classic


Afterward, an elated but emotional Hairston said the moment was for his grandfather, Sammy Hairston, a former Negro Leaguer who played just one year in the majors. The younger Hairston became the first third-generation African-American to play in the majors. His brother Scott and uncle Johnny also play, or played, in the bigs. But of the five Hairstons, on his father had ever had an at-bat in the playoffs, and none had a hit until Hairston singled.

I asked Burnett how he chose Hairston for the pie: “To just sit that long and to come in and get that hit,” Burnett said. “You know, I had to debate it. I asked everyone on the way down and they all said J. Hair, so that’s who I went with.”
Josh Thompson was understandably exhausted when he wrote that.

They play again tomorrow afternoon in what I imagine will be warmer, drier climes.


Saturday, October 17, 2009


Madame Cura and I were at Yankee Stadium 11 years ago tonight for Game One of the '98 World Serious (a crisp but pleasant autumn night, not like the dank, arctic thing happening tonight). Tino Martinez hit a grandslam to put the Yankees ahead for good. I had never been to a bigger professional sporting event, and I've never felt a huge structure shake the way old YS did when Tino launched that ball.

Let's go Yan-kees.


The view from the depression

Joe Nocera provides a fascinating glimpse of the Great Depression from someone in its midst.

It provides useful insight on our current situation and the battle over deficit spending.

Mr. Roth’s diaries have no narrative. But they are compelling reading nonetheless, because they force readers to reflect on both the similarities and the differences between then and now. What particularly struck me was watching Mr. Roth, in his diaries, grope from day to day, and year to year, searching for an answer that wouldn’t be clear until long afterward. He’s like the proverbial blind man who feels an elephant’s trunk and thinks elephants look like a rope. Not unlike the way we are today, as we grope our way through our own financial crisis.

Mr. Roth’s inflation fears are one good example. A rock-ribbed Republican, he can’t understand why Roosevelt’s New Deal programs — and the spending they require — don’t bring with them the kind of scary inflation that had occurred in Germany after World War I. He keeps waiting for it, predicting it, ever fearful that it will make an awful economic situation even worse. He is baffled that inflation remained subdued. He can’t get outside of his mental framework and see — as we can today — that Roosevelt’s programs are the only things keeping the economy alive.

But an even more wrenching example of his groping in the dark is his desperate wish for the Depression to end. His diaries are filled with tentative predictions, usually based on experts’ opinions, that the worst is over. Yet every time he thinks that, he turns out to be wrong. He begins studying the charts of previous Depressions to see how long they lasted. “I have done considerable reading about the depressions of 1837 and 1873 and I am struck by the similarity to the present crisis,” he writes in early 1933. “If history repeats itself then we still have 2 or 3 years of bad times ahead.”

At various points in the early 1930s, the stock market spikes — and he starts to think it’s a good time to buy stocks. Indeed, he writes, many experts are advising people to get into the market, and some of his wealthier friends do so. But six months later, the experts invariably turn out to be wrong, and his friends wind up losing their money. During the Depression, optimism was ruinous.

And yet — and this is something we tend to forget — between 1935 and 1937, business began to boom again, and a sense of growing prosperity took hold in the country. In Youngstown, the steel and rubber factories were operating at near capacity, just as they had in the 1920s. On Christmas Eve in 1936, Mr. Roth wrote: “Just came back thru the stores on my lunch hour. People are spending like drunken sailors.”

A week later, he added, “It seems to me that the time has come where we can formally and officially announce that the depression of 1929 has ended.”

This, of course, turned out to be completely wrong. That September, the market crashed, and the Depression took hold once again. Today, most economists believe that the downturn was caused by Roosevelt, who turned off the spigot too soon, trying to balance the budget instead of continuing to pump money into the economy. Not understanding the reason for the downturn, Mr. Roth was deeply discouraged by the reappearance of the Depression. “It is terrible to contemplate that we are in the 9th year of depression and still cannot see clearly ahead,” he wrote in March 1939.

A few months later, he wrote: “As I re-read some of the predictions made by outstanding economists in past few years, I must laugh. They were all wrong. None of them foresaw the 1937-1939 collapse and many predicted inflation before this.” Mr. Roth comes to the conclusion that relying on experts is a waste of time.
Nocera places the following quote at the start of his column this morning:

Dow at 10,000 as Crisis Ebbs

— Wall Street Journal headline on Thursday

It's beginning to feel a lot like 1937.

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The government shouldn't get involved in these kinds of disputes

Like gang rape?


What, truly, is wrong with these people?

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Friday, October 16, 2009

They've got a rep for that

Brilliant. Watch it now before Apple takes it down.

More here.

Via BJ.


The inventor of snark

Post-racial America

ALCS starts tonight...maybe

Geez, the weather is horrible out here and the forecast for the weekend is horrible-er.

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David Brooks' Unreality Moment

According to David Brooks's "reasoning," the Conservative Party in Britain is proving that the "center/left" has been discredited there by moving...left?

But Britain has hit its reality moment. The Brits are ahead of us when it comes to public indebtedness and national irresponsibility. Spending has been out of control for longer and in a more sustained way.

But in that country, the climate of opinion has turned. There, voters are ready for a politician willing to face reality. And George Osborne, who would become the chancellor of the Exchequer in the likely event that his Conservative Party wins the next election, has aggressively seized the moment.

In a party conference address earlier this month, Osborne gave the speech that an American politician will someday have to give. He said that he is not ideologically hostile to government. “Millions of Britons depend on public services and cannot opt out,” he declared. He defended government workers against those who would deride them as self-serving bureaucrats: “Conservatives should never use lazy rhetoric that belittles those who are employed by the government.”

But, he pivoted, “it is because we treat those who work in our public sector with respect that I want to be straight with you about the choices we face.” The British government needs to cut back.

Osborne declared that his government would raise the retirement age. That age was scheduled to rise at some point in the distant future. Osborne vowed to increase it sometime in the next five to 10 years.

Osborne declared that there would be no tax cuts any time soon. He said that as a matter of principle he believes that the top income tax rate of 50 percent is too high. But, he continued, “we cannot even think of abolishing the 50 percent rate in the rich” while others down the income scale are asked to scrimp.

Osborne offered government workers the same sort of choice that many private sector executives are forced to make. He proposed a public sector pay freeze in order to avoid 100,000 layoffs. He said that the pay freeze would apply to all workers except those making less than £18,000 (nearly $29,000) “because I don’t believe in balancing the budget on the backs of the poorest. Nor do you.”

I certainly don't disagree with Brooks that we are approaching a time here in the U.S. when reality will intrude and we'll have to rethink our tax rates (though a return to Reagan era marginal rates of 50% and higher are unlikely), but if he thinks that's a sign of progressive failure, or that Republicans will emulate the embrace of their brethren across the pond of not cutting taxes in times of ...whatever the times happen to be..., then I'll have what he's having, please.

It's always amusing when conservative pundits in this country look to members of Conservative parties in Europe as signs and portents of things to come here. Forgetting, of course, that Conservative party members in Europe tend to be a little to the left of Harry Reid.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

I'm not sure that's going to help

You needn't look far for things that make you spit out liquids through your nose when you venture over to the Corner of Cluelessness and Inane Commentary.

A Personal Web Milestone [Kathryn Jean Lopez]

I've been following the boy-who-isn't-in-the-balloon story exclusively on Twitter.

UPDATE: The boy was never in the balloon, but was found hiding in a box at home. Spike Jonze got nothing on that.

UPDATE 2: We are Cable News Nation. Were we pwnd by a six-year old and his media-addict parents?


"Like watching a tornado tear through a small town or something"

Wicked Black Sunday. Oh, how we've missed you Sahx fans! The drahma returns.


A bald wig for Jack the Ripper who sits at the head of the chamber of commerce

Seems the U.S. Chamber of Commerce can't tell the truth about anything, not even its membership.


"Oh, you dumb fucker"

No more Lakers? Quel dommage!

Trilling on Polanski.


PARIS — A French lawyer for the jailed director Roman Polanski said that his client would not only guarantee to remain in Switzerland under house arrest at his villa in Gstaad if released from jail, but would post his property and a substantial amount of money as bail and agree to wear an ankle bracelet and visit police officials every day.


GOP outreach

I wish these people were just being cynical politicians, but they seem to really believe their own conspiracies. Now, back in the day, at least the threat of the USSR was a credible one. The Muslim Brotherhood on the other hand...

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Nothing to see here. Move along.

I'd take it way further than a "fender bender." It's as if a guy leaves the party wasted, gets in his car and, after playing slalom with the center divider, slams into a minivan, killing a family of five. The police and paramedics show up.

Pronounce him fine.

And hand him back his car keys.

Eye on the prize

Krauthammer (no link, you know where to find him), sounding suspiciously like Christopher Walken demanding "more cowbell," rants that we need "more hegemon, please" (but without the "please" -- that would be too pussified). Joe Klein rightly takes him to task for this.

In the end, the real problem with Krauthammer's rant is this: he really doesn't want us to be exceptional. He wants us to be more brutal, more like other historically powerful countries, more like the Russians in Afghanistan or the British in Mesopotamia. His position on Iraq tips his hand, as he excoriates Obama for having

...almost no interest in garnering the fruits of a very costly and very bloody success--namely, using our Strategic Framework Agreement to turn the new Iraq into a strategic partner and anchor for U.S. influence in the most volatile area of the world. Iraq is a prize--we can debate endlessly whether it was worth the cost--of great strategic significance that the administration seems to have no intention of exploiting in its determination to execute a full and final exit.

A prize! Sounds sort of like Churchill in his most demented colonial moments: India, the jewel in the crown! (The fact that a duly elected Iraqi government wants us to leave is ignored.)

Klein is shocked by the characterization of Mess'opotamia as "a prize." But Klein is forgetting the madness of those days when the neo-conservative world view ruled our world. Iraq was intended to be a prize. A prize of vast oil reserves and the U.S. as preferred customer. A prize of vast strategic military bases not in the same country as Mecca. A prize of a U.S.-friendly government amenable to Israel.

And of course, we mustn't forget the best prize of all.

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I'm with stupid

Roy describes his "critical method."

I'm sometimes asked why I don't talk more about Malkin here. I prefer nuts with interesting personality quirks -- the Goldbergs, McArdles, Noonans, and such like. Malkin is like some dead-eyed shark looking only for the shortest distance between her mouth and her meal. Her absurdities are no less rank than theirs, but if a personality intervenes in her construction of them, I've yet to detect it.

Me, I try to stay away from all the nuts and am grateful to Roy for making his daily voyages up the Styx on our behalf.


Tom Waits speaks

New album coming. New ("first official") website here.

The other day, I overheard my older kids talking to my younger boy and they were saying "don't ever, don't EVER let Dad help you with your homework." They said I made up a war once.


Ain't no cure

Dickie Peterson, RIP.

“People keep trying to say that we’re heavy metal or grunge or punk, or we’re this or that,” Mr. Peterson told the Web site Stoner Rock in 2005. “The reality is, we’re just a power trio, and we play ultra blues, and it’s rock ‘n roll. It’s really simple what we do.”

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R. Narnia?

I've thought long and hard about how best to characterize these people and I think I've landed on it: Stoopid.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A series of newer tubes!

I wanted to visit the new site and riff on it, but it seems to be down/loading too, site unseen (pun intended), here's the top ten reasons it meets the Epic Fail standard.

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Pity the forests

Nothing is more awesome to behold than Ralph Nader's ego. I'm sure his prose is just as formidable.


Monday, October 12, 2009

Not all "saves" are equal

Joe Nathan. Jonathan Papelbon. Mariano Rivera.

After seeing Joe Mauer's bat in the ninth inning, is there anything left to be said?

Incivil internets and their victims

It's no longer as easy as it used to be to cram industry sponsored reports down anyone's throats besides those of the Washington Posts reporters and editors.


It's not the disease, it's the preventive measures

Climate change, writes James Surowiecki, poses not only a risk to the humans, but to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. More and more high-profile companies have come to realize that the chamber's lobbying efforts on their behalf are a bigger risk to them than the regulations the chamber reflexively opposes.


Heckuva job, Ross

Shorter Verbatim Douthat:

Slick Willie. Tricky Dick. Jimmy “Malaise” Carter. Dubya the Incompetent.

And now Barack Obama, Nobel laureate.

Just a bunch of obscure Norwegians, but, by taking the prize, he's made Vlad Putin "snicker."


Blue Monday, Beyonce edition

El Capitan

While Rodriguez and Posada had the big blasts, Jeter asserts himself in the big defensive play of the night. It's like déjà vu all over again.

Bite it, Scott.

UPDATE: I am remiss in not mentioning that regardless of your feelings about the Yankees, the Twins, Yankee Stadium II, or the Metrobaggy, if you missed those three ALDS games, you missed some riveting baseball. The Yankees would seem to have dominated by sweeping, but every game was close and intense (and Game 2 was as good a game as can be imagined). More importantly it was evident the Yankees -- Jeter as always, Rodriguez in a very welcoming sign -- were having fun.

Next up, the Rally Monkeys of Disneyland near Los Angeles.


Friday, October 09, 2009

Fernwood Tonight!

Rising from the ashes

I think this is about right.

This is an odd award. You'd expect it to come later in Obama's presidency and tied to some particular event or accomplishment. But the unmistakable message of the award is one of the consequences of a period in which the most powerful country in the world, the 'hyper-power' as the French have it, became the focus of destabilization and in real if limited ways lawlessness. A harsh judgment, yes. But a dark period. And Obama has begun, if fitfully and very imperfectly to many of his supporters, to steer the ship of state in a different direction. If that seems like a meager accomplishment to many of the usual Washington types it's a profound reflection of their own enablement of the Bush era and how compromised they are by it, how much they perpetuated the belief that it was 'normal history' rather than dark aberration.
The award, obviously, will be of no help to Obama domestically. But it certainly does indicate that the majority of American voters are vindicated in choosing the foreign policy direction Obama laid out during the campaign. Normally, American voters aren't that interested in foreign policy debates during U.S. presidential elections, but I think in this case they were repudiating the Bush era policies that McCain would have continued no less than the Norwegian Nobel Committee has.



If the Taliban's response to the decision by the Norwegian Nobel Committee is any indication, the response from their spritual brethren here in Greater Wingnuttia should be priceless.

UPDATE: As if on cue.

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Thursday, October 08, 2009

iPhones for dummies


But really, this is not nearly as stupid a decision as the one to make ATT the sole carrier.


"Obama's woes"

More madness and self-absorbed idiocy from the Associated Press:

Analysis: Obama's woes keep piling up around globe

WASHINGTON – The woes keep piling up for President Barack Obama.

While it is unfair to blame him for all the world's problems (although some folks try) there is no question he is having trouble finding the right answers.

Thanks AP for clarifying that it would be "unfair" to blame him for "all the world's problems," the "analyst,"then goes on to cite the inherited geo-political situations the Obama administration faces in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and with the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Those are all long, intractable problems the administration is dealing with -- and pretty forcefully, too (as opposed to the previous president, who placed Karzai on a pedestal, stuck with Musharreff well past the "sell-by date," and kicked the settlements issue far on down the "road map").

The only people for whom these fraught issues are actual "woes" are the Afghans, Pakistanis, Palestinians, and Israelis living in those benighted places.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Barry Schweid has covered diplomacy for The Associated Press since 1973.
Odd, then, that Barry seems unaware that these problems go back as far as his early days with the AP.


And no, they should never have allowed Bill Ayers to speak to the IOC

I'm glad the NY Times is finally paying attention to Greater Wingnuttia.



The Twins learn that the old baseball cliche is true: "momentum" is the name of the next day's starting pitcher.

Fun fact: Jeter hit the first post-season HR in YSII last night (a no-doubter down the left field line -- Jeter rarely pulls the ball like that); in the 1923 World Serious, the NY Giants' Casey Stengel hit the first in the original Yankee Stadium.

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Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Job creation credits

Frankly, it seems reducing or in some cases eliminating the payroll tax would be better and more progressive, but as Justin Fox notes, the story in the NY Times on the hiring tax credit being considered is very thorough and compelling.

One thing though, if this is something Washington is seriously mulling, then they'd better act fast. Why would a business hire someone now, if they can expect a tax credit if they wait six months to make that hire.

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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The domino effect

Such arguments worked so well in southeast Asia -- they led to greater involvement and more U.S. troops, resulting in more death all around, even if they did not work so well in ending a war. Nevertheless, Richard Cohen apparently feels we ought to play dominoes in another part of Asia.


Stupid headline tricks

Growing Number of GOP Leaders Back Health-Care Reform

Um, I hate to point out to the reporters and editors at the main paper in our nation's capitol, but Arnold Schwarzenegger is the tarnished governor of California and only nominally a Republican, Bill Frist is a retired senator, and Tommy Thompson a retired governor and former member of Bush's cabinet. Mark McClellan was...somebody's brother.

None of them are members of that elusive species known as "GOP leaders."


George Will uses the word "narcissism " to describe others

Monday, October 05, 2009

Our financial overlords are teh awesome

How short is your memory? BoA, forced to purchase the fetid piece of sub-prime mortgaged Merrill Lynch, is bringing back that icon of the bull market.

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Bank of America Corp (BAC.N) will spend as much as $20 million in the fourth quarter of 2009 to relaunch Merrill Lynch's name and long-time bull logo.

The former Merrill Lynch and & Co's operations will now be known as Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, and be one of two primary units in Bank of America's Global Wealth and Investment Management division, Sallie Krawcheck, the division's president, told a press conference.

She called the Merrill Lynch operations and the U.S. Trust business, the other main unit, two of the industry's "crown jewels," adding that she feels the industry is beginning to rebound.

"It feels like momentum is turning," she said.

Or it's the worm that's doing that, she's not sure which. And no word on how much tax payer money is funding this buy, either directly or indirectly less directly.

During the credit bust, our leaders embraced the too-big-to-fail policy, reluctantly bailing out large institutions to save the system from collapse, they said. Yet even as the crisis has abated, these policy makers have shown little interest in cutting financial monsters down to size. This is especially disturbing given that some institutions have grown even larger as a result of the mess.

It is perverse, of course, to reward big banks’ mistakes with bailouts financed by beleaguered taxpayers. But the too-big-to-fail doctrine benefits the banks in other ways as well: the implication that an institution will not be allowed to fall gives it significant cost advantages over smaller, perhaps more responsible competitors.

Quantifying these advantages is difficult, though. While bailouts have numbers attached to them, hidden benefits, again subsidized by the taxpayer, are harder to assess. The result is that taxpayers may mistakenly believe that when a bailout recipient repays a loan, subsidies received by the institution have stopped.

Because our government wouldn’t dream of calculating the hidden costs associated with the bailout binge — taxpayers might become even angrier than they already are — it is gratifying that the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a liberal research group in Washington, has taken a stab at the task.

Dean Baker, an economist and co-director of the center, and Travis McArthur, a research intern, analyzed banks’ costs of money to compare the interest rate that smaller banks pay to attract deposits and borrow funds with the rate paid by behemoths perceived as too big to fail.

Using data from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Mr. Baker’s study found that the spread between the average cost at smaller banks and at larger institutions widened significantly after March 2008, when the United States government brokered the Bear Stearns rescue.

From the beginning of 2000 through the fourth quarter of 2007, the cost of funds for small institutions averaged 0.29 percentage point more than that of banks with $100 billion or more in assets. But from late 2008 through June 2009, when bailouts for large institutions became expected, this spread widened to an average of 0.78 percentage point.

At that level, Mr. Baker calculated, the total taxpayer subsidy for the 18 large bank holding companies was $34.1 billion a year.

I for one am just glad to help out.

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Blue Monday, Doc Watson edition

Depression 2.0

How close did we come to falling into a Depression last year?

Pretty damned close, according to Robert Samuelson.

"Depression" is a term of art. It's more than a serious economic downturn. What distinguishes a depression from a harsh recession is paralyzing fear of the unknown -- so great that it causes consumers, businesses and investors to retreat and panic. They hoard cash and desperately curtail spending. They sell stocks and other assets. A devastating loss of confidence inspires behavior that overwhelms the normal self-correcting mechanisms (lower interest rates, inventory resupply, cheap prices) that usually prevent a recession from becoming deep and prolonged: a depression.

Comparing 1929 with 2007-09, Romer finds the initial blow to confidence far greater now than then. True, stock prices fell a third from September to December of 1929; but fewer Americans then owned stocks, and prices had risen early in the year. Moreover, home prices barely dropped. From December 1928 to December 1929, total household wealth declined only 3 percent. By contrast, the loss in household wealth between December 2007 and December 2008 was 17 percent -- more than five times as large. Both stocks and homes, more widely held, suffered larger losses.

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The investment class

Destroyers of businesses.

Simmons says it will soon file for bankruptcy protection, as part of an agreement by its current owners to sell the company — the seventh time it has been sold in a little more than two decades — all after being owned for short periods by a parade of different investment groups, known as private equity firms, which try to buy undervalued companies, mostly with borrowed money.

For many of the company’s investors, the sale will be a disaster. Its bondholders alone stand to lose more than $575 million. The company’s downfall has also devastated employees like Noble Rogers, who worked for 22 years at Simmons, most of that time at a factory outside Atlanta. He is one of 1,000 employees — more than one-quarter of the work force — laid off last year.

But Thomas H. Lee Partners of Boston has not only escaped unscathed, it has made a profit. The investment firm, which bought Simmons in 2003, has pocketed around $77 million in profit, even as the company’s fortunes have declined. THL collected hundreds of millions of dollars from the company in the form of special dividends. It also paid itself millions more in fees, first for buying the company, then for helping run it. Last year, the firm even gave itself a small raise.

Wall Street investment banks also cashed in. They collected millions for helping to arrange the takeovers and for selling the bonds that made those deals possible. All told, the various private equity owners have made around $750 million in profits from Simmons over the years.

How so many people could make so much money on a company that has been driven into bankruptcy is a tale of these financial times and an example of a growing phenomenon in corporate America.

Every step along the way, the buyers put Simmons deeper into debt. The financiers borrowed more and more money to pay ever higher prices for the company, enabling each previous owner to cash out profitably.

But the load weighed down an otherwise healthy company. Today, Simmons owes $1.3 billion, compared with just $164 million in 1991, when it began to become a Wall Street version of “Flip This House.”

Simmons is just one example of a company with a long and proud heritage -- and workers -- destroyed by leveraged buy out shops, who saw no risk in leveraging the hell out of the companies they were flipping...until the water drained out of the pool. Of the 220 companies that filed for protection this year, half are owned by private equity companies.

In other words, those benefiting most greatly from the unfettered "capitalism" of the past few decades are those most likely to destroy capitalism as we know it.

These guys, for instance.

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Saturday, October 03, 2009

Wingnuts assured they've won the daily news cycle

Journamalism school

It's remarkable that reporters who are completely ignorant of the facts surrounding Rio's winning bid (say, like, Rio's bid realistically proposed the highest cost and Latin America had never held an Olympic Games, or that the IOC and the USOC are not on the best of terms right now), can publish something on the subject and the AP calls it "Analysis."

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Friday, October 02, 2009

One small point of pride


Your lobbying heart

Maybe there should be another ACORN investigation.

Mr. Hampton and his wife, in a series of interviews, provided a detailed account of Mr. Ensign’s efforts to mitigate the fallout from the affair, which ruptured two families that had been the closest of friends.

Mr. Hampton said he and Mr. Ensign were aware of the lobbying restriction but chose to ignore it. He recounted how the senator helped him find clients and ticked off several steps Mr. Ensign took to assist them with their agendas in Washington, activities confirmed by federal officials and executives with the businesses.

“The only way the clients could get what John was essentially promising them — which was access — was if I still had a way to work with his office,” Mr. Hampton said. “And John knew that.”

After requests from Mr. Hampton, Mr. Ensign called the secretary of transportation last year to plead the case for a Nevada airline, Allegiant Air, which was under investigation for allegedly overcharging for tickets. In April, he arranged for Mr. Hampton and his clients to meet the new transportation secretary in a successful effort to resolve a dispute with a foreign competitor.

The senator, after exchanges between his senior staff members and Mr. Hampton, also urged Interior Department officials to complete an environmental review for a controversial coal-burning plant under development by a Nevada power company, NV Energy.

Despite those efforts, Mr. Ensign’s relationship with his one-time aide and the husband of his former mistress has ended in bitterness and recriminations. Mr. Hampton grew increasingly frustrated about his financial situation, believing that the senator had reneged on a deal to find him enough clients to sustain his income.

“You have not retained three clients for me as promised, and your poor choices have led to a deep hurt and financial impact to my family,” Mr. Hampton wrote the senator in an e-mail message in July 2008. “At your request and your design, I left your organization to save your reputation and career, and mine has been ruined.”

For his part, Mr. Ensign has complained that Mr. Hampton tried to extract exorbitant sums from him.

Until he admitted the affair in June, Mr. Ensign, 51, was a top Senate Republican leader and was discussed as a possible presidential contender in 2012. The silver-haired senator with a statesman’s looks and family money — his father helped found a Las Vegas casino — has championed conservative social values.

Because, clearly, ACORN is undermining our democracy.

Senate ethics rules and federal criminal law prohibit former aides, if they have “the intent to influence,” from making “any communication to or appearance” with any senator or Senate staff member for a year after leaving their jobs. A separate law required Mr. Hampton to register as a lobbyist if he intended to press a company’s case on Capitol Hill.

Congress in 2007 toughened ethics laws to make failure to file as a lobbyist a criminal offense. Prosecutors have used the 12-month lobbying ban to bring criminal charges in several corruption cases, including the 2006 conviction of Bob Ney, then a Republican congressman from Ohio.

Mr. Hampton, who believed that Mr. Ensign’s help with his clients was crucial to his success, admitted he had ignored the restrictions. He said that it was November Inc.’s responsibility to register him as a lobbyist, but he added that he did not insist the company do so because it would have made obvious that he was making inappropriate contacts on Capitol Hill. As for violating the one-year ban, he said he did so at Mr. Ensign’s direction.

“Work with Lopez,” Mr. Hampton said the senator told him. “I will take care of Lopez. I will make sure Lopez gives you what you need.”

Mr. Lopez agreed that Mr. Ensign instructed him to work with Mr. Hampton, but offered a different explanation.

He said that after he had raised concerns about Mr. Hampton’s requests, Mr. Ensign responded by designating him to be the office’s intermediary with Mr. Hampton to ensure that the contacts complied with the law.

Mr. Lopez, who left Mr. Ensign’s office last month, also said his conversations with Mr. Hampton were simply “informational.”

“Did Doug advocate and try to lobby in a couple of instances?” Mr. Lopez asked. “Absolutely. But that’s his problem.”

Several legal experts said, however, that the communications between Mr. Ensign’s office and Mr. Hampton might have been improper. If Mr. Ensign knew that Mr. Hampton was lobbying his office and facilitated the arrangement, he could face an inquiry, said Stan Brand, a former House general counsel who specializes in government ethics issues.

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Thursday, October 01, 2009

Why the Afghan people matter

Obsidian Wing's Eric Martin has written a very long post on the situation in Afghanistan, focusing primarily on how the Afghan people view Coalition Forces, and how that should play a role in the forthcoming decisions on our future strategy. It's gone a long way in helping me understand the situation there. And it's too important to excerpt.


Baseball is not like other sports

If you ain't cheatin'*, you ain't tryin'.

What's particularly cool is that even though Mauer is tipping signs to Kubel, the latter still can't or won't touch Verlander's nose to toes curve. Kubel sits fastball all the way and finally does win the battle.

And what's also interesting, why didn't the Tiger's catcher change signs with a runner -- and a catcher no less -- standing on the bag at second? Especially since he knew Mauer was signaling.

* And no, I don't really think stealing signs is cheating; it's part of the game, but the Tigers will send Mauer to the ground one of these days in retaliation. That's also part of the game.


Call the whambulence, again

After a summer of citing "death panels" and "Democrats want to cut Medicare" and "kill granny" and, more recently, "I don't care what concessions you make, I won't support a bill," Republicans are offended? Oh, please.

And, no, Grayson is not the "Democrat's Joe Wilson." Wilson rudely attacked the President of the United States as he was addressing a joint session of Congress. Grayson was making a point during his time during a debate. Not. The. Same.

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Um, there are plenty of things to not like about the Polanski extradition and the LA DA's ham fistedness.

But Anne Applebaum is really a horrible human being.

She states that readers who refuse to look at the nuances of the criminal act itself (as opposed to the judicial proceedings), are somehow unsophisticated goons. And I would agree that readers who threaten to rape her daughter are indeed such. But, there was nothing "nuanced" about what happened in Jack Nicholson's house that night, unless you don't believe the trial testimony she herself links to (she called her mom to tell her she'd be late...and so he raped her...of course, it's the mom's/daughter's always is).

The reopening of this has been an interesting walk down memory lane. I vividly remember the trial and the aftermath, and I am pretty much sure that much public opinion sided with Polanski at the time (I guess I could google the way-back machine to look for confirmation of my memories, maybe later). In fact, I believe I read an interview of Nicholson after Polanski'd fled, where he said, "She knocked him down and beat him to the floor," to describe the victim that night. Who was thirteen. And had been given champagne and a Quaalude, so, yeah. In that context, the reaction of Applebaum, Woody Allen (who should shut his mouth, really), and Ethan Cohen, among many others, isn't that surprising, I guess.

That is all on that.

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Thus spake Olympia

Not everything that comes out of the Senate Finance Committe is wretched. Though Kent Conrad is.

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