September 29, 2007

Boy, the subprime/alt-mortgage crowd just doesn’t quit

On the door of my apartment this morning, I found an invitation to a block party in a new development in the suburb directly east of mine, where I used to live, while working at another newspaper in our group of suburban weeklies.

It specifically mentions “$0 down $MOVE IN” immediately beneath the top “Millbrook Block Party” line.

September 28, 2007

The Dingell is in the details on carbon taxes

Several weeks after promising it, Michigan’s House Democratic war horse, John Dingell, has delivered an energy bill. And, as I expected at that time, there’s a lot about which to be concerned; there’s some halfway good stuff, too, but even that has the lingering aroma stench of pandering to it.

I have several points of analysis:
• I’m OK with a carbon tax. But, if you’re going to submit something so serious, and you intend for it to succeed (whether Dingell does so or not is an open question, at best), you’d better put plenty of negotiating padding in there. And, I don’t think $50 a ton does. I think you would need to start at $100 a ton (too much more than that would turn people off right away) to bargain down to $50 a ton.

• Exempting biofuels? Crazy, and scientifically illiterate. Carbon dioxide is carbon dioxide, no matter its source. But, Michigan grows some amount of corn, and sugar beets, which some wonder whether they might substitute for cane sugar for ethanol. Michigan/Midwestern political pandering, at least to a fair degree, I think.

• A 50-cent a gallon gas tax is good, but, exempting diesel fuel? The Oil Drum argues that Dingell is pandering to the Teamsters. It’s possible, is what I’ll say, at the least. Dingell ranks 17th among Representatives from 1990-2006 in Teamsters political contributions, according to Open Secrets, receiving $71,000.

• Eliminating the mortgage writeoff above 3K square feet on homes? The size standard panders somewhat to anybody not moving to the upper edge of the middle class and beyond, but, as more and more cookie cutter McMansions beyond this size are built by cheap builders, I welcome this. Dingell does soften the blow by having homes over 3K in size lose the mortgage deduction on a sliding scale and not all at once.

• The “revenue-neutral” part? I’m OK with putting part of the money this raises toward health care issues, but think part of it should be used for budget reduction, too, rather than all of it being spent.

Bottom line? If Dingell’s bill is intended in addition to the 35mpg CAFÉ standard for cars (and trucks being finally included), I’ll give him a B-minus. It doesn’t get higher because we need to nail a first effort on carbon tax. In addition to junking the gas tax free ride for diesel and the carbon tax loophole for biofuels, I’d like to see a carbon cap-and-trade program as part of this legislation.

If this is intended to substitute for a CAFÉ increase, there’s enough here I won’t give Dingell an F. But, that’s about all I’ll say.

Creationist/intelligent designer deception

Getting recognized mainstream scientists like Richard Dawkins to appear in a movie which was only later revealed to be an intelligent design effort certainly fits the bill on deception.

Now Dawkins is British, and shouldn’t be expected to be fully cognizant of American politics and political culture. But, as soon as I read in the story that Ben Stein extended him the invitation, I smelled a rat.

If IDers/creationists can’t make a film without a lie about it’s nature as the starting premise, that says more than enough right there, doesn’t it?

September 27, 2007

Will Congressional Democrats launch a “condemn Limbaugh” resolution?

Yes, it would be petty and tit-for-tat to counter the GOP-pushed MoveOn condemnation resolution with one against Rush for calling war-protesting soldiers “phony soldiers,” but it would be, at the same time, just desserts for the GOP, and send a signal that it needs to stop this type of bullshit in the future.

For all of those reasons, the Democrats probably won’t do it.

American exceptionalism is why I really don’t like Ken Burns’ “The War”

Yesterday, I posted that seeing parts of Ken Burns’ “The War” confirmed my limited expectations.

An exchange of a couple e-mails today with a friend of mine led to the light bulb of “why” going off in my head.

To me, by just talking about the U.S. in World War II in any depth, and especially not talking about the Soviet contribution, is of a piece with the degree of American exceptionalism Burns has in many of his other documentaries.

Look at “The Civil War,” for example. Burns went fairly light on the racial foundation of secession; one of his primary interlocutors was Shelby Foote, who was considered by some historical critics to almost approach Douglas Southall Freeman-lite status on interpretation of — or defense of — Southern attitudes during the Civil War. Of course, Burns did not have anything about Reconstruction as part of his epic; when he finally did get to it, it was just a two-hour “American Experience” show on PBS, almost as if Burns had finally succumbed to pressure.

Sidebar: For more on Foote’s attitude to the Confederacy, see this interview from the McNeil-Lehrer Newshour of his opinion of South Carolina flying the Confederate flag. I quote:
The flag is a symbol my great grandfather fought under and in defense of. I am for flying it anywhere anybody wants to fly it. I do know perfectly well what pain it causes my black friends, but I think that pain is not necessary if they would read the confederate constitution and knew what the confederacy really stood for. This country has two grievous sins on its hands. One of them is slavery - whether we'll ever be cured of it, I don't know. The other one is emancipation - they told 4 million people, you're free, hit the road, and they drifted back into a form of peonage that in some ways is worse than slavery.

So, you have Foote saying, in essence, the Confederacy really wasn’t all that bad. Foote later accuses flag-criticizers of “hiding from history.” On emancipation, he nowhere mentions either southern resistance to it, via the Klan founded by Foote’s Civil War hero, Nathan Bedford Forrest, or southern co-option of it via “Redeemer” governments.

When I first watched “The Civil War” I was more conservative than now, and while I had read some of Foote’s history, I hadn’t heard background comments by him, or analysis of him. As I grew more progressive, and added that up with Burns’ initial failure to tackle Reconstruction, that’s when Burns really started going downhill in my estimation.

My friend said he thought Burns was showing the ugliness of war enough that his wife thought Shrub, our beloved George W. Bush, ought to be tied down and forced to watch.

I replied that I thought Burns was painting WWII battlefield mayhem more in the light of tragedy than ugliness.

Beyond that, if Uncle Walter Cronkite voicing over same-week, if not same-day, Vietnam fighting on the CBS Evening News, rather than six-decade-old newsreel action, isn’t enough (and wasn’t enough for draft-dodging Shrub) to see the ugliness of war, nothing is.

Especially given the attitude of much of the GOP, beyond Shrub himself, toward war, I said I found Burns’ indulgence of American exceptionalism potentially dangerous.

To put it more kindly, if you want “The Greatest Generation” on emotional steroids, “The War” is good, even great. If you want an educational documentary about the full scope of World War II and its place in world history, “The War” gets a B-minus at best. Now, if you want a “Greatest Generation” take, that’s fine. But I was hoping, against hope, for something more. (And please don’t tell me Burns couldn’t do more within his time constraints.)

Doorknob help us if Burns decides to do a documentary on the Gulf War (or the Mexican War, dipping back into history).

Vaclav Havel hammers the moral dimension of global warming

The former Czeck president lays the moral challenge out well:
Either we will achieve an awareness of our place in the living and life-giving organism of our planet, or we will face the threat that our evolutionary journey may be set back thousands or even millions of years. That is why we must see this issue as a challenge to behave responsibly and not as a harbinger of the end of the world.

He also answers libertarian types who are worried about personal liberties being infringed through massive government intervention on climate issues:
If we drag our feet, the scope for decision-making — and hence for our individual freedom — could be considerably reduced.

Like I said, it’s about the old, old Fram commercial, where the mechanic says, “You can pay me a little bit now or a whole lot later.”

Another Democratic assumption about our future in Iraq could prove faulty

If the Army wants an additional $3 billion to speed up the rate of its expansion of forces, Congressional , and presidential candidate, Democrats who are relying on a forced drawdown from Iraq due to troop number walls will find their assumptions challenged.
In January, when Bush announced his intention to send five extra combat brigades to Iraq in a change of war strategy, he also approved a plan to increase the size of the Army by 74,000 soldiers over five years. The rationale was that the Army needs to get bigger in order to sustain a long-term commitment in Iraq and Afghanistan without wearing out the troops and alienating their families.

The Marine Corps also is expanding for the same reason.

(Secretary of the Army Pete) Geren said the Army now sees a need to accelerate its growth plan, as strains on troops continue to mount. He said the Army estimates it will cost an extra $2.7 billion to $2.8 billion — mainly in added personnel costs — to accomplish the 74,000 increase in four years rather than five.

Add this to the fact that the top three Democratic presidential candidates have officially said they’re OK with a military presence in Iraq five years from now, the seriousness about Clinton, Obama and Edwards of getting us out of Iraq has to be questioned even more.

Top Dem presidential candidates: Iraq deadline is 2013

What after that, 2020?

Clinton, Obama and Edwards all agree that’s the new deadline for withdrawal from Iraq, per their New Hampshire debate comments.

First, given that they are backpedaling again, why should we consider even this a deadline written in anything more durable than sand? That goes in spades for Clinton after her vote for the Lieberman-Kyl amendment, which could be setting the stage for military action against Iran to boot.

Second, why do so many progressive bloggers, whether individuals or members of the group blog Watching Those We Choose, continue to maintain a “run Democrats up the flagpole and salute” attitude, and denigrate people who talk about voting Green or exploring other third-party options, at least if a pro-war Democrat gets the nomination?

Blogging was supposed to be liberating, and freeing of individual thoughts.

But, it appears that, in many cases, it’s just given rise to new forms of groupthink and collective blather. That’s why I’m considering withdrawing from active participation in such group blogs.

September 26, 2007

Do we need to engineer the planet to fight global warming?

Early this year, some U.S. climatologists argued for seeding the atmosphere with particulant pollutants, i.e., soot, to reflect sunlight; now, British “Gaia” hypothesis deviser James Lovelock wants to create a giant oceanic heat pump to stimulate algae growth to suck up carbon dioxide.

Yes, it could work; but, with such radical tinkering, there’s no guarantee it would work. Plus, ideas like this are guaranteed to fuel American “technology true believers” who think we can tech our way out of any problem.

Patriot Act parts found unconstitutional

Early this year, some U.S. climatologists argued for seeding the atmosphere with particulant pollutants, i.e., soot, to reflect sunlight; now, British “Gaia” hypothesis deviser James Lovelock wants to create a It violates the Fourth Amendment:
U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken ruled that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, as amended by the Patriot Act, “now permits the executive branch of government to conduct surveillance and searches of American citizens without satisfying the probable cause requirements of the Fourth Amendment.”

No shit, and yet Democrats voted to do that just a month ago. Meanwhile, intelligence czar Mike McConnell wants to make that permanent.

Probably Congressional Democrats still won’t find a spine, and will hope SCOTUS bails them out.

Ken Burns’ “World War II” — about as so-so as I expected

The biggest way in which it confirmed my limited expectations is that it is NOT about WWII, just about the U.S. part in it.

Burns missed some excellent educational opportunities, such as letting more people know the USSR took 90 percent of Allied WWII casualties. He provides no detail about Lend-Lease; so far (and I’ve been catching bits and pieces), I’ve seen nothing about Allied leader wartime summits.

Where’s the French Resistance? Where’s Vichy? Where’s the war before U.S. involvement?

Dianne Feinstein …

Yes or no, the Betty Crocker of San Francisco? Compare pictures and discuss.

Obama hitting on JFK method of getting a pristine Senate record

Like Jack Kennedy in his 1960 presidential run, Barack Obama seems to be missing a number of votes recently — votes that his fellow presidential candidate Democratic Senators Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and Chris Dodd all seem to be making, such as the Lieberman-Kyl bill, to declare Iran’s Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization.

Given that 30 Democrats in all voted for this, this is another reason for me to be skeptical of liberal bloggers who are willing to question Democratic backbone, but never do anything about that, i.e., vote Green or something, at election time.

Recession chances keep ticking upward

As housing problems keep ballooning.
The U.S. supply of unsold homes ballooned to an 18-year high in August as sales fell to a five-year low and prices were up just 0.2%, according to the National Assn. of Realtors.

”The good news is that the housing market did not collapse in August. Sales took a hit, and inventory increased, but houses, nonetheless, sold,” said Patrick Newport, an economist with research firm Global Insight.

”The bad news,” he added, “is that the worst may be just ahead. August’s sales do not reflect the full impact of the credit crunch.”

August, hell. Try July 2008. That’s when the rate of resets for adjustable-rate mortgages finally peaks. We’re nowhere near the bottom of this well yet.

One good thing about the change of French governments

The Sarkozy Administration appears to have become open to the European Union candidacy of Turkey than the previous Chirac Administration.

I always thought it was both ludicrous and duplicitous for Chirac to, on the one hand talk about the Christian heritage of Europe as a reason to oppose Turkey’s EU membership bid, then on the other hand work to keep the would-be EU constitution as secularist as possible.

Of course, Sarkozy himself was originally against the Turkey bid, too. But, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who is rapidly looking like a serious practitioner of Realpolitik, convinced President Sarkozy to approach talks with Turkey with an open mind.

September 25, 2007

Will too many liberal bloggers will wind up as “Democratic enablers”?

Expect to see some, if not many, liberal bloggers draw lines in the sand that the Democratic Congress, and the eventual presidential nominee next year, either are supposed to not cross, or to cross, depending on the direction and the issue, to prove themselves progressive enough.

Expect many of the do not cross lines to be crossed, or the “please cross” starting point lines to not be crossed.

Expect to see many of these liberal bloggers shake their fingers and say, “One more time,” or, “I’m giving you one more chance.”

Expect nothing to change.

Expect said bloggers to continue this.

Expect at least some of said bloggers to accuse other progressive bloggers, those who mention Greens or other third-party options, of being backstabbers, of having the blood of Iraq on their hands, etc.

Lather, rinse and repeat every two years for the next decade.

September 24, 2007

TNR does whack job on environmentalism

I stopped reading the Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger antienvironmental screed disguised as a call for a new environmentalism when I got to this sentence:
Given this, the challenge we face as a species is to roughly double global energy production by mid-century while simultaneously cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half worldwide (and about 80 percent in the United States), so that we can avoid the worst consequences of climate change.

How could such a massive undertaking be achieved? Not, as environmental leaders insist, by limiting human power but rather by unleashing it. (Emphasis in original,)

What a ludicrous straw man, setting up the idea that most environmentalists are some sort of antitechnological Luddites.

Telecom immunity — next issue for Dems to cave on?

Since telecom immunity from lawsuits over warrantless wiretaps wasn’t made part of the ridiculous Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act expansion, it’s now coming up on its own. Glenn Greenwald expects Democrats to roll over, given the number of Democratic as well as Republican lobbyists involved in the immunity effort.

I’d have to agree with Glenn. Unfortunately, too many progressive bloggers, even in the face of this, still aren’t ready to ask when to stop supporting Democrats as a party and look at the Greens, or local social democratic candidates, or whatever options they have.

September 23, 2007

What’s wrong with the reporting here?

Bush promises to veto the children’s health insurance bill, claiming “Democrats in Congress have decided to pass a bill they know will be vetoed.” Considering the Senate version of the bill, which was adopted as the final version in Senate-House caucus, passed the Senate by a veto-proof margin, Bush would be wrong. But, that’s not mentioned in the story.

Changing the U.S. voting and political system radically

In a post below, I talked a bit about wanting to change the U.S. electoral system. In response to one of the comments, I added some information there, and I’m going to talk more here about what I’d like to see changed.

First, as I mentioned there, I encourage everyone here who is interested in political science issues to read David Lazare’s “The Frozen Republic.” It is the best book I know advocating a parliamentary government for the U.S.

The first reason I cite is based on the analogy of the U.K. and other modern parliamentary democracies. You have an election, and the new government, if there is a change of parties, takes over the next day. If a coalition is needed, it takes over as soon as coalition details are in place. Opposition parties already have “shadow” cabinet secretaries, etc.

In a nuclear-armed, and computer-driven age, the U.S Constitution (the body, not the various civil liberties and rights) is antiquated in many ways. This is the most egregious way. It’s simply unacceptable for the world’s most-powerful (both militarily, and for a bit longer, at least — watch that Chinese shadow — economically) nation to have a transition of 10 weeks between governments, with another two-three weeks after that before a cabinet is in place.

The second way it’s antiquated is illustrated by the 2006 election. First, a change of Congress like this would have booted Bush out of power.

Related to that, especially if (per my discussion on voting changes, below), we had third parties holding seats (let’s say, Greens and maybe a Libertarian or two) and the Democrats’ margin was narrow, the Democratic party would have to actually deliver on getting out of Iraq. If not, deaths, resignations, by-elections (to use that wonderful British term), etc., would undercut Democrats’ power to govern without coalition.

Beyond going to a parliamentary system, I’m also ready to change specifics of those representatives.

First, in addition to the 435 single-member district Representatives (which we might change to call them “state-proportioned Representatives), let’s elect another, say, 165 off a national list, on a proportional basis. I’m directly using the German Bundestag, with a 400/200 split, as my starting point. Having a national list (with a lower cutoff percentage for third parties to qualify than in Germany) would give third parties a better chance of getting a couple of seats, at least.

Second, to eliminate the perpetual campaign, and tracking the norm in other states, Representatives would serve four-year terms. But, to make government even more responsive, we would stagger this to have half the House elected every two years. Or, to give a “mid-term” feel, we could have single-member districts on one four-year cycle and the national list on another.

Third, though I would not make the Senate as weak as the British House of Lords, since this is a parliamentary government, I would weaken it somewhat, a la the German Bundesrat, the Japanese Diet’s upper house, etc. And, to further reflect regionalism, versus single-state federalism, I would consider the idea of having some Senators elected on a regional basis; also, to lessen the small-state inequity of the Senate, regional Senators would be apportioned to different regions (South, Mid-Atlantic, New England, etc.) on a population basis.

States would also be allowed to have their Representatives elected by a method other than first-past-the-post single-member districts. The particular method for this would be of their choice.

Here are Wiki links for single transferable vote (a method I like more than what Clay proposes, but which would probably require change in federal law), preferential voting in general (which includes both IRV and the STV I like, and voting systems in general, including Clay’s range voting.

I favor the Single Transferable Vote system, myself.

A strong federal Congressional campaign finance law would also be passed, including money for third-party candidates meeting reasonable thresholds.

I would also eliminate the “life or good behavior” tenure in office of federal judges. District judges would serve 12-year terms, reappointable once. Appellate and Supreme Court justices would serve 14- and 16-year terms, respectively, also reappointable once. (Extra appointments could not be carried over from inferior to superior courts.)

Now, I’m not at all sanguine about ANY of this actually happening. But, you can now see how dissatisfied and disaffected I am with the current political process.

Does the Iraq parliament believe it’s sovereign or not?

Even if it refuses to pass a draft oil law, why don’t Maliki or parliamentary leaders talk about getting it to overrule the 2004 contractor sovereignty regulation imposed from above by the U.S., and then put some Blackwater folks on trial?
That’s why I have never favored the “I support the troops” me-too-ism of some antiwar people. Even if immediately qualified with a statement such as “I support getting them home,” it still seems a no-win proposition. It’s arguing on war supporters’ turf.