SocraticGadfly: 1/27/08 - 2/3/08

February 02, 2008

FutureGen hits PresentSnag — and, is it all hype in the end?

The experimental power plant for carbon-capture coal-fired electricity has been shelved:
With the budget of the so-called FutureGen project having nearly doubled, to $1.8 billion, and the government responsible for more than 70 percent of the eventual bill, the administration completely revamped the project.

The Energy Department said it would pay for the gas-capturing technology, but industry would have to build and pay for the commercial plants that use the technology. Plans for the experimental plant were scratched.

Top Energy Department officials said the change would save taxpayers money, generate more electricity and capture more than twice as much carbon dioxide.

But independent energy experts largely criticized the move, saying it would require two to four more years for new designs, plans and approvals, let alone budget tussles and eventual construction.

The idea is to capture carbon dioxide emitted by coal-fire power plants and then pump it deep into the earth to avoid further buildup of the gas in the atmosphere. But several experts said the plan still lacked the scope to test various gas-separation technologies, coal varieties, and — most important — whether varied geological conditions can permanently hold carbon dioxide.

I’m guessing that, in another five years, we’ll see FutureGen as the same global-warming stall bullshit out of Bush as the hydrogen car.

Is Hamid Karzai about to screw himself?

British support for military operations in Afghanistan is reportedly on the wane after Karzai criticized the performance of British troops, and seems set to stake out more policy independence.

Canada is already threatening to pull out in a year if other NATO members don’t supply it more heavy weapons/equipment and don’t put more boots on the ground. If that happened, and the British joined them, it would be hard put to “hold the middle” in Afghanistan without serious additional U.S. troops.

Hey, Ron Paul, you don’t need gold

Not when new laser techniques can make aluminum look like gold.

Rain forest destruction problems grow

First, rain forest destruction releases more carbon dioxide than all transportation sources combined. Second, the rate at which we’re losing rain forest has increased from 50 acres a minute to 60. In Africa, almost 1 percent of forest is lost a year.

In Africa, where the rate of loss is worst, it’s small-scale farmers, not the mega-ranches of Brazil or the palm plantations of Indonesia. That points out the need for one thing, beyond environmentalism itself, something where BushCo has non-surprisingly been AWOL:

Promoting birth control internationally.

In the 21st century, out-of-control birth rates are part of why poverty is still such a problem in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as some other parts of the globe.

I don’t just look like Karl Rove, I act like him!

That would be

Jim Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council for Environmental Quality, who was representing the U.S. at international climate change talks in Hawaii.

Connaughton, who’s lied like Rove in denying that either big business concerns or faith-based issues influence BushCo science policy, claims the talks have been “productive.”

Translation? That means he thinks he’s doing a good job of stalling.

On the coffee table — ‘Face to Face’

“Face to Face” is Kishline’s “co-autobiography” with Sheryl Maloy, the estranged wife and mother to the two people Kishline killed in her DWI accident in 2000.

Unfortunately, beneath what appear to be a number of post-accident improvements in honesty, at least honesty with others, Kishline has plenty of rationalizations, or even self-lies, in this book.

Whether or not one wants to label oneself as "alcoholic," one's behavior as "alcoholic drinking," or use similar terminology, she won’t do that, even though she continues to drink regularly, get drunk at times, and even admit that she uses alcohol as an emotional crutch.

In the hopper, David Mendell's bio of Obama and "Complicity," which details just how much the North, as well as the South, profited from slavery.

Read more in-depth reviews of everything I’m reading (as well as some of my classical music and nature/travel video tastes) at Amazon.

February 01, 2008

The Fed: Making like Japan

And that’s definitely not a good think, says Jim Jubak.

Why not?

He warns the recent Fed panicky rate cuts could give us a 1990s Japan-style prolonged economic slump. It’s worth an extended quote:
Ben Bernanke's Federal Reserve increasingly looks like it's headed toward a repeat of the errors that took Japan into a decade-long banking crisis and economic slump, beginning in the early 1990s.

Welcome to the United States of Japan, where growth slows to a crawl, the stock market goes nowhere and savings earn nothing. Just in time for the retirement of the baby-boom generation, too.

Japan's crisis, like the recent one in the United States, began with an extraordinary real-estate boom. In 1987, the price of land in Japan's three biggest metropolitan areas climbed 44 percent. Prices went up 12 percent more in 1988 and then 22 percent in 1989.

And like the U.S. real-estate boom, the Japanese boom was fueled by cheap money. The Bank of Japan, that country's Federal Reserve, had lowered the discount rate — the rate it charges other banks — to a post-World War II low of 2.5 percent from 5 percent in 1984-87. In those same years, the money supply grew by better than 10 percent a year.

It all sounds familiar, doesn’t it? And, that’s not all that sounds familiar:
As happened in the U.S. real-estate boom, lending standards in Japan collapsed. At the height of the boom, banks regularly made loans for more than 100 percent of property values. To keep real-estate loans off their books, banks lent through nonbank entities that made the actual loans.

Regulatory oversight took a vacation, too. Japan’s Ministry of Finance allowed companies to include the profits from real-estate speculation in reported earnings. By 1987, Japanese companies made half of their profits from speculative investments in real estate -- and the stock market.

Jubak then describes how big financial agencies, like Mitsubishi Bank, first “floated,” then bought up, insolvent creditors and junior fiscal partners.

That, too, sounds quite familiar, as in Bank of America buying Countrywide just a couple of weeks ago.

Beyond that, Jubak says here’s why Fed head Ben Bernanke isn’t handling the U.S. situation correctly:
By giving banks the hope they can dodge rather than bite the bullet, the Federal Reserve has created the possibility that what would have been a very painful but short lesson for the banks could turn into a long-term drag on the financial markets and the economy.

If banks lend less because they’re spending so much time watching their past mistakes that they shudder at the idea of adding loans to their balance sheets, if nobody trusts the prices for distressed assets, so big parts of the financial markets remain frozen in place, if consumers and corporations with decent credit can’t get new loans to fix bad ones or to expand production or consumption, then the economy will run slower than its potential. And if the Japanese experience is any indication, it will run slower for a very long time.

Shorter Jubak: By making himself too much a hostage to Wall Street, especially the short-term Street, Bernanke is probably doing more damage than good to the longer-term Street.

Ann Coulter: I’d back Clinton over McCain

Do some conservatives really hate the Schmuck Talk Express™ this much?
She said on Hannity & Colmes last night that Clinton “is more conservative than he is” … “Hillary is absolutely more conservative" and moreover "she lies less than John McCain. And she's smarter than John McCain so when she lies she knows it....John McCain is not only bad for Republicans he is also bad for the country.”

Read the whole story for how the former president hasn’t been shy “advising” countries with less than stellar human rights records.

Life insurance policy could raise McCain age question

As collateral for a $3 million loan for his presidential campaign, John McCain had to take out a special life insurance policy. The policy was specifically predicated on him not surviving this year’s campaign.

Given that McCain is seeking to replace Ronald Reagan in the record books as the oldest person first elected to the presidency, this leaves the age issue open to attack, as has McCain’s comment a couple of weeks ago to consider serving only one term.

So far, though, Mitt Romney hasn’t touched this issue in the primaries, though.

However, especially if Hillary Clinton gets the Democratic nod, this issue will get raised in the fall campaign.

‘Stagflation-lite,’ part 2

Given how much over their earnings heads consumers spent in the past decade is another reason nobody will go broke with predictions of an extended period of ‘stagflation-lite.’

More and more of that debt is going to come due in the next few years, not just mounting credit card debt, but home equity debt and more. And, it’s going to come due with people more and more strapped. The flurry of personal, home deficit-based spending that got the economy out of the 2001 recession? The piper is piping, and we don’t have enough personal finance wiggle room for that to happen again, Michael Mandel argues.

The big question — how much of that $3 trillion in personal deficit spending will we as individuals, and the economy as a whole, ultimately have to “give back,” Mandel wonders.

McCain was ready to ditch GOP in 2001

Well before John Kerry’s attempt to make McCain his running mate on the 2004 Democratic presidential ticket, the Schmuck Talk Express™ was “open,” at least, to changing parties.

This was all going down shortly before Vermont’s Jim Jeffords became an independent, over multiple White House snubs, and allowed Dems a clear Senate majority by caucusing with them.

Here’s the poop:
In interviews with The Hill this month, former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and ex-Rep. Tom Downey (D-N.Y.) said there were nearly two months of talks with the maverick lawmaker following an approach by John Weaver, McCain’s chief political strategist. …

McCain consistently shot down the rumors, though Weaver acknowledged this week that the senator did talk to Democrats about leaving the GOP. …

In one article, Marshall Wittman, a McCain loyalist and strategist six years ago, put the odds of McCain leaving the Republican Party at “50-50.”

Former Senate Majority Leader Daschle says McCain was, at times, just as close to leaving the GOP as Jeffords.

This will certainly get play in these last days before the Super Tuesday primaries; in the majority of states that are closed primaries on the GOP side, it’s Mitt Romney’s last best shot at stopping McCain.

Oh, and McCain’s repeated denials of the issue continue to belie his moniker of “Straight Talk Express.”

Baseball, as well as football, gets Congressional scrutiny

No, not steroids. Sen. Arlen Specter wants to know more about the Patriots’ ‘Spygate’ illicit taping story from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Specifically, he wants to know why the Pats’ spying tapes were destroyed. And, he hasn’t ruled out direct Congressional testimony being sought.

Ahh, if only Specter can show the same zeal with Attorney General Mike Mukasey and the destroyed CIA waterboarding tapes.

‘Stagflation-lite,’ if not the full deal?

That’s what Chris Farell says over at Business Week:
The risk for business, consumers, and investors is the emergence of a different kind of stagflation—call it “stagflation-lite.” It would be defined by higher-than-expected inflation rates (say, a 5.6% increase in the CPI) and lower-than-expected growth rates (like a 0.6% economic expansion).

Whether we’re in an actual recession now or not, and if so, how long and how deep it will be are still up in the area.

But, given that adjustable-rate mortgages will have a second reset peak in 2010, I think Farrell’s “stagflation-light” could be around for a few years.

January 31, 2008

Some in-depth thoughts on a voucher-based national healthcare plan

Vouchers, unlike a single-payer system, get past the three-legged stool of opposition to a single-payer plan

Earlier this week, riffing on President Bush’s State of the Union address, I called for Pell Grants for national healthcare. In that post, I laid out the bare bones of an argument that a voucher-based system is politically much more realizable than a single-payer system. Also, though not mentioned there, a voucher-based system is still paid for, on the part of giving individuals money to buy insurance, unlike the unfunded mandate Mitt Romney signed into law as Massachusetts governor, or the incremental changes to our current healthcare system Democratic presidential candidates are proposing.

Is there a better way, but one that offers consumer choice as individuals — and also requires consumer responsibility? Yes.

The Netherlands has a voucher-based system that requires individuals to buy insurance, as in Massachusetts and as a Gov. Schwarzenegger proposal would do in California. However, unlike Massachusetts, but like Ahhnold’s proposal, insurers cannot deny people coverage for pre-existing conditions. The government gives insurers the extra money needed to take care of the extra needs of these people, supplementing the insurance premium base cost. Private insurers do business as before, only now entirely with individuals; unlike in Massachusetts, companies in the Netherlands are not required to buy insurance, and many don’t. Individuals, then, don’t have to participate in a company-run, one-size-fits-all program. And, going a step beyond the government-filtered Medicaid program here, in Holland, poor people get direct government money to go buy their own insurance along with everybody else.

Aside from government taxes helping fund the vouchers (which would probably cost less than Medicaid), this actually has a free-market orientation. Individuals buy the insurance plan they want, from less comprehensive to more comprehensive.

As for paying for this, eliminating the corporate tax deduction for employer-provided insurance (which tends to favor bigger businesses that have more things to try to deduct, and more money to spend to find these deductions over smaller businesses) would free up money right there.

Germany has some features of a voucher system, albeit with more government regulation.
German bureaucracies implausibly combine efficiency with red tape. The healthcare system is no exception. It has been running smoothly since Bismarck's days. The national insurers issue to their members “Krankenscheine” — booklets with coupons or vouchers.

Insured patients are entitled to one free consultation every 3 months. The coupon used in lieu of payment is redeemed by the insurance company which pays the doctors. Recognizing the dangers of over-visitation and over-consumption of free services and drugs, in Germany patients partly pay for everything else — from medicines to corrective contact lenses.

Hospital admittance — to both private and public facilities —is conditioned upon referral by a doctor. This apparently onerous demand served to virtually eliminate waiting lists together with the hypochondriacs, factitious disorders, and impostors that infest hospitals elsewhere.

There’s a three-legged stool of opponents to a British-Canadian single-payer system here that shoot it down as a model for an American national healthcare system.

Those legs are Big Pharma, that is, the major pharmaceutical companies, the American Medical Association, and health insurance companies.

Tackling Big Pharma just isn’t doable. There’s less than a dozen major drug companies, with a strong, tightly focused group of lobbyists, first, as compared to the other two legs of the stool. Also, Big Pharma has ginormously Deep Pockets. Finally, not all Big Pharma companies are even headquartered in the U.S., so would be tough to ride herd on, anyway.

A voucher-based plan might be able to offer at least a quarter-loaf, if not a half-loaf, above current HMOs, to doctors, whether AMA members or not. And, this is something that’s needed anyway.

It’s called a federal office of insurance regulations. Such an agency would have the power not only to monitor fraud, or, under a voucher system, attempts to still not insure people with pre-existing conditions. It could also oversee both policyholder and doctor complaints about lack of timely payment, disputed charges, and so forth.

I don’t doubt that doctors would see that as a reasonable pot sweetener to agree to a national health care system of some sort.

That leaves insurers. Since a British-Canadian single-payer system would, except for people buying supplemental health insurance policies, pretty well eliminate the world of private health insurance, and since insurers know that the clamor for major healthcare reform is growing, they have an incentive to totally get on board with a voucher-based system.

Expressing somewhat similar ideas, more support for a voucher-based national healthcare plan can be found here.

In other words, a voucher-based system of nationally-funded, privately-purchased healthcare is very politically doable.

Of course, there’s more systemic factors involved with escalating U.S. healthcare costs.

They include what I call “MRI envy” among hospitals, overtreatment of patients out of lawsuit fears (and, no, Texas-style tort “reform” is not the answer from where I sit), and even the cost of medical school in the U.S. versus western European countries with similar standards of income. Besides addressing the paying for healthcare, we need to further look at its pricing.

The Slickster ignores human rights for a shakedown or two

More fuel for fires of copresidency worries

Bill Clinton just happened to be an “observer” on behalf of his philanthropic foundation when Canadian mining magnate Frank Giustra, running a shell company, visited Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev trying to muscle in on the ground floor of uranium there.
And Guistra, successful with his “muscle” just four weeks later, and Clinton later supported Kazakhstan’s effort to head the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Giustra just “happened” to give Clinton’s foundation $131 million in multiple donations, with a visit to Clinton’s foundation headquarters by the head of Kazakhstan’s government uranium oversight program sandwiched in between.

Read the whole story for how the former president hasn’t been shy “advising” countries with less than stellar human rights records.

If Christopher Hitchens were to rewrite his Clinton bio with an update (which I’d love to see, BTW), he’d probably diss Bill as “the Republican Mike Huckabee.” Of course, I’m not sure which of the two Arkansas governors would be more insulted by the comparison. In some ways, Huckabee might be the loser.

And, for people worried about a copresidency in reverse of 1993-2001, an article like this points out there’s legitimate reason to worry. Not only does it show Bill isn’t really that progressive, he’s promised to continue this type of foundation fundraising if Hillary is elected. That would come even closer to lobbying than he already has.

How ‘bipartisan consensus’ undermined the 9/11 Commission investigation

The commission, charged with determining how 9/11 could have happened, had a “mole” leading the way.

Executive Director Philip Zelikow had at least two known phone calls to Karl Rove. In addition, as director of Condoleeza Rice’s National Security Agency transition team after the 2000 election, he had a major hand in demoting Bill Clinton counterterriorism czar Richard Clark.

Commission add-on Bob Kerrey threatened to resign when he found out about it, but let Chairman Tom Kean (sadly) talk him out of it.

Note: This is not just an Obama dig, but it is in part. To the degree Republican Congressmen, let alone Republican committee staff and bureaucrats learned anything in the first six years of BushCo, it’s how to roll “compromisers” in the gutter.

If they had any balls, or ovaries, Democrats would call for a new 9/11 Commission. Don’t hold your breath.

If one Rick Perry endorsement fails, jump on the bandwagon before it leaves the station

Since Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s endorsement of Rudy Giuliani (done for Bracewell Giuliani 2006 campaign contributions and legal involvement in the Trans Texas Corridor) flopped so spectacularly, Perry has stuck his finger in the Texas (and California and New York) polling winds has decided to endorse John McCain.

That’s our Gov. Helmethair, showing his usual political brilliance.

Reason No. 973a to be leery of Democrats — more on Mukasey

As a follow-up to a recent post of mine noting Attorney General Mike Mukasey’s stance on waterboarding sounds like Newt Gingrich, the real issue behind this is we have an Attorney General with the ethics of Alberto Gonzales but more administrative skill in stonewalling, lying and denying:
The problem is that Mukasey is only willing to make and defend his decisions without explaining them. Still, he is very convincing in asserting that even though his decision is secret and its rationale is secret, and all future applications are secret, he is nevertheless confident that it’s the right decision.

True, some Democrats from the Senate Judiciary Committee are right now showing themselves to be less worthy of being called leery.

But, this is like shutting the barn door on a 2,000-beast concentrated animal feedlot operation after they’ve all crapped in the lagoon.

Next economic bad news benchmark — $1,000 an ounce gold?

As the WSJ news pages point out, it hit $942 after the Fed’s second rate cut.

January 30, 2008

The three most important words …

In the English language are, by consensus, “I love you.”

I suggest two solid runners-up:

“I don’t know” and “I was wrong.”

Climate change: Pricey to fix, but sounding ever more necessary

An estimated global price tag? A cool $20 trillion over two decades. Worst of all, according to a UN report, the needed changes would affect many of the world’s poor the most.

But, the need?

Seawater warming accounted for 40 percent of a strong increase in hurricanes in the mid-1990s to today, scientists in the prestigious journal Nature say.

Bet you didn’t know this about the “stimulus” — an apparent high-dollar housing bailout

The top dollar amount for a standard, or conforming, mortgage that can be purchased by quasi-federal agencies such as Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, versus a “jumbo” mortgage, will increase from $417,000 to $730,000.

Lemme see, we’d be talking primarily about Florida and California here — high-dollar states with a once-booming housing market until their bubbles burst.

Lemme see No. 2… this is an election year, right?

Mr.Fed: Stupid, panicky or both

The Fed cut the funds rate another half-percent today.

My take: the stupid vs. panicky is about 50-50. Bernanke can obviously be easily stampeded by Wall Street, which reflects on both stupid and panicky for him.

And, since the European Central Bank didn’t follow the previous rate cut, the dollar will slide more, which argues in on the stupid side, especially with a half-point, not a quarter-point cut.

This will not, repeat not, restore serious liquidity to the housing market, either. Chalk up more panicky for Bernanke, at least; if this part of the equation also falls under stupid for him, he really is a putz.

The only other people to like it are likely in Beijing, which will probably see this as helping slow down Chinese inflation.

Wonderful. After exporting our jobs, we’re now exporting financial help.

And, we’ve once again proved that “free markets” is a myth. At least Adam Smith, or more so, a stereotyped distortion of his more modest claims, gets another smackdown on the playing field of theory.

What, Newt Gingrich is now AG?

Reason No. 973 to be leery of Democrats, especially in Congress

Mike Mukasey, the Attorney General nominee the Senate, including Democrats, so willingly signed off on, now says the question about whether waterboarding is torture or not can only be determined through a cost-benefit analysis.

Meet another presidential candidate

Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney will be in our area, in Fort Worth Feb 10. It’s at 7 p.m. at Spiral Diner, 1314 W. Magnolia. That’s a Sunday.

PayPal and bloggers

I don’t claim this blog is anywhere close to major league. I’ve never tested myself on the website that lets bloggers rate themselves by position in the animal kingdom.

Instead, I’ll use a baseball reference.

I’d consider my blog lower-level AA ball. Not AAA, let alone the majors; and not even, to be honest, a high AA team. But, it’s not Class A and it’s certainly not rookie league.

And, it is high enough that blog advertising sales company Newstex approached me, not the other way around.

Anyway, between low and high AA, there are thousands, if not tens of thousands, of politically-focused blogs out there.

So, why do so many assume that they’ve so much to offer, or they’re so great, that they schlep for PayPal donations? I dunno. A blog version of an extended version of Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame?

Speaking for myself, I would consider it greedy and condescending if I solicited PayPal money. If I were more techie, and really thought people would pay, I would firewall at least parts of some posts, and other posts in their entirety, behind a subscription paywall.

Well, many of those other blogs I just mentioned are probably more techie than I am. So, why don’t they go this route instead?

McNamee lawyer: Andy Pettite will contradict Roger Clemens

Brian McNamee’s lawyer says Andy Pettitte will affirm he talked human growth hormone with Clemens in 2001-02. Now, that’s not steroids, to be sure, but, it pretty well undercuts Clemens portrayal of innocence.

Which is good. Clemens needs a real smackdown on this issue.

And, yes, if it ain’t obvious, I believe the Rocket’s been lying all along about not getting his butt shot full of steroids.

January 29, 2008

Not all Kennedys backing Obama

Three RFK scions, including RFK Jr. and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, are endorsing Hillary Clinton. Combine that with her win in the off-the-books Florida primary, and her semi-apology for husband Bill’s recent campaign hardnosing, plus her endorsement from Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters, a key player in SoCal, and it’s clear Obama “momentum” from South Carolina isn’t really all that.

Obviously, David Brooks missed the memo on the RFK family endorsements for Clinton.

Duhh and shock me. It is David Brooks.

Do independents bollix up the two-party political works?

Ted Rall argues open primaries more problem than positives. He cites this year’s Democratic primaries to date, where Clinton and Obama lead despite polls showing Edwards the most electable Democrat, and arguably the one most attuned to liberal Democrats.

All good points. Of course, for non-centrist independents, either libertarians on the one side or Greens and social democrats on the other, open primaries may be desirable, and these independents don’t bollix up the works.

Plus, Rall blows it for once; this would be a perfect place to argue for reform of the Constitution toward a parliamentary democracy.

Your latest housing blues

Bank of America had better hope it didn’t buy a Countrywide pig in a poke, given its $422 million loss in the fourth quarter of 2007. Meanwhile, home foreclosures increased 79 percent last year. And, new home sales plunges 26 percent last year.

‘Pell Grants for (private) schools’? Hell, Pell Grants for national healthcare

Instead of Shrub’s marketing plan, in his (thank doornknob, final) State of the Union, to rename vouchers for religious schools “Pell Grants for kids,” can’t we have somebody talking about “Pell grants for national healthcare”?

If progressives think a German-style voucher system, with mandates but government assistance in paying for it, is an easier sell than a British single payer system, which I do, this is the talking phrase needed.

ATT Net filtering plan really about Net Neutrality

Add it all up, the new about ATT wanting to filter online activities of ISP subscribers allegedly to keep people from sharing copyrighted material. Rather, it’s an easy way for AT&T to fight Net Neutrality. Not that their snooping itself isn’t bad enough.

A bitch at Blogger/Google

Can’t you fix the XML code or whatever so that ampersands can be used in titles and body content?

Effed-up business electrical service, thy name is TXU

How you can turn the power off a week before a planned move just because a business wanted it turned on at the new site today, as part of starting the move process, is beyond me.

Then, when it’s your fault, how you can say it will take 24 hours to turn it back on is ridiculous.

Texas progressives, remember not to vote in the March 4 primary

That’s so that, according to the two-party monopoly Texas law, you can sign the petition to get the Green Party ballot access.

January 28, 2008

Irony alert: Al Sharpton

Al telling Bill Clinton, or anyone for that matter “it’s time to be quiet”, so fits the definition that Webster’s ought to put Sharpton’s video in its online entry for “irony.”

A German who gets the problems in today’s financial world

Frankfurt stockbroker Dirk Mueller says: this about today’s alphabet soup of acronymed financial investment “products”:
“Today it has been invaded by financial products that the market itself does not understand.”

Amen to that.

Obama trying to buy Edwards out of race?

How else can you explain the claim Obama would make Edwards his Attorney General?

My take:

1. Edwards doesn’t want that position;
2. He’ll be more likely to stay in than drop out early with an offer like this — he’ll have his dander up;
3. The Clintons will find some way to spin this.
4. Given that Edwards just launched a major new ad buy, not only won’t it work, but Obama’s move has horrible timing.

Brewster Jennings outed well before Plame outing

Neocons play hardball pre-Iraq; Wilson claims perhaps more murky

In a claim that will have the Jonah Goldbergs of the world calling for Scooter Libby’s pardon, FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds claims that Brewster Jennings was exposed as a CIA front way back in 2001. It’s related to her claim we handed nuclear info to Turkey:
“One group of Turkish agents who had come to America on the pretext of researching alternative energy sources was introduced to Brewster Jennings through the Washington-based American Turkish Council (ATC), a lobby group that aids commercial ties between the countries. Edmonds says the Turks believed Brewster Jennings to be energy consultants and were planning to hire them.

But she said: “He [the State Department official] found out about the arrangement . . . and he contacted one of the foreign targets and said . . . you need to stay away from Brewster Jennings because they are a cover for the government.

“The target [Marc Grossman of the State Department] . . . immediately followed up by calling several people to warn them about Brewster Jennings.

“At least one of them was at the ATC. This person also called an ISI person to warn them.” If the ISI was made aware of the CIA front company, then this would almost certainly have damaged the investigation into the activities of Khan. Plame’s cover would also have been compromised, although Edmonds never heard her name mentioned on the intercepts. Shortly afterwards, Plame was moved to a different operation.

Are the claims real?

It sure looks like it:
Phillip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, said: “It’s pretty clear Plame was targeting the Turks. If indeed that [State Department] official was working with the Turks to violate US law on nuclear exports, it would have been in his interest to alert them to the fact that this woman’s company was affiliated to the CIA. I don’t know if that’s treason legally but many people would consider it to be.”

The FBI denied the existence of a specific case file about any outing of Brewster Jennings by the State Department official, in a response to a freedom of information request. However, last week The Sunday Times obtained a document, signed by an FBI official, showing that the file did exist in 2002.

Re Libby, err Cheney, and Plame, it’s still unclear how far knowledge of Brewster Jennings was disseminated before 2003. But, there’s loose threads, to say the least>

As Democratic Underground notes:
In Joe Wilson's book, The Politics of Truth, he says that he met his future wife, Valerie Plame, at an American Turkish Council (ATC) event at the residence of the Turkish ambassador in Washington DC in 1997. At the time, both the ATC and the Turkish diplomatic community were targets of FBI investigations.

Wilson's consulting company, JC Wilson International Ventures, appears to have some Turkish clients, some of which may have come through his involvement at the ATC.

Given the interconnectedness of much of the Washington village, while I’m not offering a defense of Scooter Libby, it seems the whole Plame imbroglio has more gray areas than many Cheney-haters may want to admit.

On the other hand, the fact that Grossman is known as neocon complicates things yet further, and also shows how far they were, and still are, willing to go.

Meanwhile, the State Department still wants to be a nuclear proliferator, specifically to Turkey. Is this a CYA by neocons, who drool over Turkey precisely because of the nature and degree of its backdoor intelligence arrangements with Israel? Could well be. In that case, Grossman flagged Brewster Jennings in an effort to make it back off. And, it shows in yet another way how neocons had no regard for CIA professionals.

That, to me, is the backstory all along. The Turkey-Israel connections are well-known. I’m sure that’s why the Turks’ refusal to join the invasion in 2003 was a surprise of sorts, as well as a disappointment.

Will falling dollar prompt more protectionism?

It’s prompting the Chinese and various Arab countries, primarily through sovereign wealth funds from Arab countries and a mix of government and private money in China, to buy more American businesses.

I’m surprised that this hasn’t gotten political campaign play; I think this would fit up Edwards’ alley, above all.

You just heard the sound of the dollar falling further …

Otherwise known as the clamor of Wall Street supposedly producing another rate cut.

First, so much for Fed chief Ben Bernanke having the cojones of Paul Volcker. It looks like he’s going to be Greenspan-lite, only his bubble, about the only one he has to play with right now, is interest rates.

Second, given how huge the backlog of unsold homes is, this will NOT, repeat NOT significantly impact the housing market.

And, it sets up negative psychology all around, as one trader recognized:
“Anticipation of another Fed rate cut is the main magnet in the market today,” said Alfred E. Goldman, chief market strategist at A.G. Edwards & Sons Inc.

He was skeptical the gains would stick — anything the Fed decides after its two-day meeting lets out Wednesday could be met with disappointment. If the rate cut is small or nonexistent, the market will likely be unsatisfied; if the cut is wide, the market may worry the economy is worse than it thought.

“If we do rally into a Fed rate cut, we have a lose-lose situation,” Goldman said.

It’s amazing how well “capitalism” ginning of economic situations works, isn’t it?

2007 new home sales drop worst on record

New home sales in 2007 fell by more than 26 percent from 2006, underscoring just how bad housing woes are, and indicating how serious of a recession we’re likely to have. The Fed’s three-quarters of a percent rate cut is unlikely to touch this. Nor will the government “stimulus” plan really touch something this deep. Simply put, the housing industry needs to take some more lumps.

January 27, 2008

The meat-guzzler, as well as the gas-guzzler, needs to be tamed

The meat guzzler being, above all, Homo sapiens Americanus.

Among the reasons why, as this article attests, is that:
An estimated 30 percent of the earth’s ice-free land is directly or indirectly involved in livestock production, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, which also estimates that livestock production generates nearly a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases — more than transportation.

And, as for the global warming equivalent of this worse-than-transportation problem?
Gidon Eshel, a geophysicist at the Bard Center, and Pamela A. Martin, an assistant professor of geophysics at the University of Chicago, calculated that if Americans were to reduce meat consumption by just 20 percent it would be as if we all switched from a standard sedan — a Camry, say — to the ultra-efficient Prius. Similarly, a study last year by the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Japan estimated that 2.2 pounds of beef is responsible for the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the average European car every 155 miles, and burns enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for nearly 20 days.

So, eat about 2 ounces less of meat a day. You’ll do yourself, and the world at large, a world of good. Or, at least, eat more pork and poultry, which are more efficient converters of plant material to animal material than cows are.

Also, if we stopped subsidizing the beef industry as much as we do the oil and transportation industries, the price of meat would go up enough people would automatically cut back.

(Disclosure: I eat about 2 ounces or so a day, most days.)

Tom Leppert, regional meddler

Hey, I would love for the various Dallas suburbs to tighten their ordinances on smoking in restaurants and similar places.

But, first of all, this is a purely local matter for each suburb. It’s no business of Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert. Where’s he get off on that?

Second, it’s not like Leppert doesn’t have enough to do in Dallas itself anyway, between schmoozing, fluffing and smoke-and-mirroring the Corps of Engineers to get a grade-A environmental review on the Trinity Tollway, continuing to smack around Councilwoman Angela Hunt for the effrontery to try to hold Dallas civic leaders to the intent of an original vote, and playing CYA for DART’s financial flim-flam.

Tom, I’m sure that smoking ordinances in Dallas suburbs is soooo much more important than all that. Not!