March 22, 2008

Irony alert: Democrats demand ‘straight talk’ on Iraq

So do the voters who thought they were getting straight talk about Iraq and other issues in 2006 from Congressional Democrats, not weak whining about President Bush that would be swatted out of the lane by anybody taller than 5-2.
“The American people are still waiting to hear the straight talk we deserve,” Sen. Robert Menendez said in the Democrats’ weekly radio address. “Instead of making more sweeping claims of victory, as he did this week, it's time for the president to face the reality of the situation we're in.”

Why don’t YOU tell the American public the truth, Sen. Menendez?

Why don’t you bluntly tell them
• That we cannot establish a democracy in Iraq, even if we had more troops than we do there now?
• That you are still afraid of being labeled “defeatist”?
• That Afghanistan, as well as Iraq, is probably “lost”?
• That me-tooism on nation-building in both countries is stupid and criminal?

I could list more, but that’s enough for starters.

Irony alert tag.

Quo Vadis Hillary after 2008?

Earlier this week, I blogged as to whether or not it was time for Hillary Clinton to close up shop on her campaign, whether before or after the Pennsylvania primary (assuming she doesn’t have a earth-shaking victory, if any, there).

Per the in-depth Politico story and other items linked there, I noted that:
• Her campaign is essentially broke, including the fact that Barack Obama could outspend her 2-1 in Pennsylvania and still have $9 million on hand to drop on North Carolina, given their current finance numbers;
• She would have to do 60-40 in the vote in remaining primaries AND 2-1 in currently unpledged or yet-unnamed superdelegates;
• The release of White House logs from her years as First Lady have put the lie to her claims to have been ardently anti-NAFTA.

So, with all that in mind, assuming she doesn’t get the nomination in 2008, what happens to Hillary Clinton’s political life, future and plans after this summer?

Speculation 1. If Obama wins in 2008, that puts her next chance of a presidential run in 2016. And, as women like Geraldine Ferraro, or plenty an older Hollywood actress, would surely, and rightly, tell us, ageism has a sexism bias to it.

In other words, a 68-year-old Hillary Clinton ain’t going to get the nomination, and not just because she will even more seem to be a link to the past and not an “agent of change” in 2016.

Speculation 2. If Obama loses, a lot of intra-Democratic navel-gazing will probably point the finger at her, and quickly. Her 2012 nomination chances might not be “none,” but they would be “slim” indeed.

And, would she stay in the Senate, under either speculation? Her seat comes up for re-election in 2012, which would bollix things up more if Obama loses in the general this year.

Or, what if Obama wins? Does Clinton get a primary challenger, backed by the Obama White House, in her 2012 Senate race?

Hence, the almost desperate quality of her recent campaigning, most recently exemplified by the Slickster questioning Obama’s patriotism.

Huffington Post has more on the Slickster as desperation surrogate.

Diehard Clintonite makes Freudian slip

Over at Talking Points Memo, Clintonite e-mailer MR sends this to Josh:
I have to say that I disagree with your entry stating that Clinton supporters have thrown in the towel and accepted that Barack Obama will be the nominee. Let me be clear, we will never back down until the fat lady sings. And that performance, which will be for the better, will be on the convention room floor. It will be an all out brawl!

We’re not backing down! The fight has just begun!!!! Pennsylvania is around the corner and a large victory is excepted. (Emphasis added.) Polls in West Virginia also strongly favor her. Polls in North Carolina that have favored Obama are now virtually tied. There will be big surprises in North Carolina.

Beyond the almost desperate use of multiple exclamation points, note the “excepted.”

As I e-mailed Josh, I believe MR meant to say:
Pennsylvania is around the corner and a large victory is expected.

Not QUITE the same as what MR said, who seems to be saying a Clinton victory in Pennsylvania is being “bracketed” as not being in the bag.

As I said in the header, a Freudian slip, perhaps?

Is the economy THAT bad? Or some yuppies that bad?

If you’re 52 and moving back in with your parents? That’s what 52-year-old Ann Bauer did. Maybe in part:
Kim Foss Erickson, a financial planner in Roseville, Calif., north of Sacramento, said she has never seen older children, even those in their 50s, depending so much on their parents as in the last six months.

“This is not like, ‘OK, my son just graduated from college and needs to move back in’ type of thing,” she said. “These are 40- and 50-year-old children of my clients that they’re helping out.”

But, maybe instead, it’s yuppies who have shot themselves in the financial foot and are looking for one more bailout from soft-touch parents:
Parents "”jeopardize their financial freedom by continuing to subsidize their children,” said Karin Maloney Stifler, a financial planner in Hudson, Ohio, and a board member of the Financial Planning Association. “We have a hard time saying no as a culture to our children, and they keep asking for more.”

And, here’s a few of those soft-touch parents:
Bauer’s parents won't take rent money or let her help much with groceries. She’s trying to save several hundred dollars a month for a house while working as a meetings coordinator.

Bauer would prefer to live on her own, but without her parents’ help would “probably be renting again and trying to stick minimal money in the bank,” she said.

Renting instead of owning? Boo-hoo. I doubt you ever do save enough money to buy a house.

Here’s another softie:
Shirley Smith, 80, said she and her husband didn’t hesitate when they invited Bauer to return to their home in Eden, Wis. Buying groceries for another person isn’t stretching her budget too much, she said.

“I’ve got three kids and any of them can come home if they want,” she said.

Personal angle: I moved back home in my late 20s, and lived there for about three years into my early 30s. Making less than $7 an hour, in the mid-1990s, I not only bought groceries, I saved money.

If you’re desperate enough that you have to move back in with your parents later in life, I accept that. But parents who are STUPID enough to not charge rent, room and board, or whatever, even if just nominal amounts, deserve whatever trouble they get.

Can Limbaugh be nailed for Ohio election fraud?

Short answer, for those of you familiar with the developing story, appears to be No, we apparently can’t put Rush’s pilonidal cyst behind bars for recreational fun for some some Ohio criminals named “Bubba.”

Whether you are familiar or not with the story, read on:

Truthout reports Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) is investigating GOP crossovers voting in the Ohio Democratic primary. In Ohio, doing a temporary party change for that reason (Ohio primaries are semi-closed or semi-open, depending on which way you look at it) is a criminal offense, and Rush Limbaugh (and Laura Ingraham) encouraged exactly such behavior:
While this all makes for great talk radio and sounds like fun, there is one catch: What Limbaugh encouraged Republican voters to do in Ohio was a fifth-degree felony in that state, punishable with a $2,500 fine and six to 12 months in jail. That is because in order to change party affiliation in Ohio, voters have to fill out a form swearing allegiance to that party’s principles “under penalty of election falsification.”

That said, if Truthout, beyond the direct quote, is getting the gist of the law right, I don’t know that it applied to Limbaugh.

Indeed, the law applies only to individual voters:
3599.36 Election falsification.

No person, either orally or in writing, on oath lawfully administered or in a statement made under penalty of election falsification, shall knowingly state a falsehood as to a material matter relating to an election in a proceeding before a court, tribunal, or election official, or in a matter in relation to which an oath or statement under penalty of election falsification is authorized by law, including a statement required for verifying or filing any declaration of candidacy, declaration of intent to be a write-in candidate, nominating petition, or other petition presented to or filed with the secretary of state, a board of elections, or any other public office for the purpose of becoming a candidate for any elective office, including the office of a political party, for the purpose of submitting a question or issue to the electors at an election, or for the purpose of forming a political party.

Whoever violates this section is guilty of election falsification, a felony of the fifth degree.

Every paper, card, or other document relating to any election matter that calls for a statement to be made under penalty of election falsification shall be accompanied by the following statement in bold face capital letters: “Whoever commits election falsification is guilty of a felony of the fifth degree.”

And, the Ohio statute on conspiracy does not cover this level of felony.

Sorry, Truthout, and other people wanting to put Rush’s pilonidal cyst behind bars for some Ohio criminals’ recreational fun, but it ain’t gonna happen.

March 21, 2008

Texas follows bad California law creates public health risks

Child Protective Services is needed instead of this stupid law

Nine of 12 California children who recently got measles did so because their parents refused to vaccinate them, and had the right to do so under a California law that lets parents opt school-age children out of vaccinations.

And, Texas joins California among 20 states that allow personal exemptions, beyond religious-grounds objections:
“I refuse to sacrifice my children for the greater good,” said Sybil Carlson, whose 6-year-old son goes to school with several of the children hit by the measles outbreak here. The boy is immunized against some diseases but not measles, Ms. Carlson said, while his 3-year-old brother has had just one shot, protecting him against meningitis.

And, she does so willingly:
Carlson said she understood what was at stake. “I cannot deny that my child can put someone else at risk,” she said.

Worst of all, she illustrates the dark side of the Internet — too often, it’s about what could at best be called “knowledge” or “information,” but certainly not wisdom, and “information” that fuels preconceptions:
“When I began to read about vaccines and how they work,” she said, “I saw medical studies, not given to use by the mainstream media, connecting them with neurological disorders, asthma and immunology.”

In other words, “they,” whomever “they” are, are blocking us average citizens from knowing the medical truth.
Sybil Carlson isn’t the most nutbar parent in the deck, though:
Some parents of unvaccinated children go to great lengths to expose their children to childhood diseases to help them build natural immunities.

In the wake of last month’s outbreak, Linda Palmer considered sending her son to a measles party to contract the virus. Several years ago, the boy, now 12, contracted chicken pox when Palmer had him attend a gathering of children with that virus.

“It is a very common thing in the natural-health oriented world,” Ms. Palmer said of the parties.

Where is Child Protective Services, or the California equivalent, when you need them? Seriously. I’m not hyperbolizing.

Sony shakes down laptop customers at $50 a shot

I’m sorry, it’s actually “just” $49.99 that Sony is charging recent laptop buyers to remove craptop software it preinstalled.

Sony’s justification? It covers the pre-shipping cost of removing the crapware on the configure-to-order versions of its Vaio TZ2000 and Vaio TZ2500 laptops.

FISA renewal REALLY not urgent but bait-and-switch is

So, after BushCo’s attempted bitchslap of Congress did nothing on telecom immunity in FISA renewal, all of a sudden, Attorney General Mukasey is open to compromise.
“If somebody has some brilliantly creative compromise, I'm happy to hear that.”

This is a bait-and-switch Trojan horse, of course, because Mukasey then defines “brilliantly creative compromise” in BushCo terms, saying the just-passed House bill doesn’t count.

Obviously, this is a pre-Senate invasion softening-up bombardment. Look for a beached, dying, harpooned Jay Rockefeller to wash ashore shortly after Easter.

Time for Clinton to close up shop?

First, her campaign is essentially broke.
Despite a strong month of fund-raising in February in which she brought in $35 million, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton finished the month essentially in the red, once her campaign’s outstanding debts are factored in, as well as her personal loan, according to filings submitted late last night to the Federal Election Commission.

After spending about $31 million in her efforts to keep up with Senator Barack Obama, Mrs. Clinton finished February with more than $33 million in cash on hand, but $21.5 million of that is earmarked exclusively for the general election, leaving her with $11.7 million for the primary.

Mrs. Clinton, however, loaned her campaign $5 million earlier this year and she listed $8.7 million in debts to various vendors, making clear why she has not yet paid herself back from her loan.

Well, it’s true that political debtors often know they’re going to have to settle for dimes on the dollar, but they don’t face that settling until the end of the election cycle.

Nonetheless, Barack Obama has more than $31 million on hand, and with almost no debt.

Clinton could spend every dollar she has on Pennsylvania and Obama could double here and then still drop almost $9 million on North Carolina.

And, the nearly dry well can’t impress the still-wavering superdelegates. But Bill Richardson’s Obama endorsement can.

Second, the mathematics of the matter are that she can’t win.
Her own campaign acknowledges there is no way that she will finish ahead in pledged delegates. That means the only way she wins is if Democratic superdelegates are ready to risk a backlash of historic proportions from the party’s most reliable constituency.

Unless Clinton is able to at least win the primary popular vote — which also would take nothing less than an electoral miracle — and use that achievement to pressure superdelegates, she has only one scenario for victory. An African-American opponent and his backers would be told that, even though he won the contest with voters, the prize is going to someone else.

People who think that scenario is even remotely likely are living on another planet.

The Politico story then goes into analytical details:
et’s assume a best-case scenario for Clinton, one where she wins every remaining contest with 60 percent of the vote (an unlikely outcome since she has hit that level in only three states so far — her home state of New York, Rhode Island and Arkansas).

Even then, she would still be behind Obama in delegates.

And, the Politico story was written before a Michigan revote possibility died stillborn.

At best realistic case, Clinton would be about 100 delegates behind, with 261 superdelegates unpledged as of this time and 71 still to be named.

Clinton would have to get a 2-1 break, like 216-116, to make up ground of 100 delegates from superdelegates.

That ignores that recently pledging supers have been breaking more for Obama, that Richardson’s endorsement will swing some, and, above all…

That Hillary’s scheduling logs as First Lady showed her strong and active support for NAFTA. We still have weeks until the Pennsylvania primary, but, even if she does win, it can’t be by more than 55-45. And, I wouldn’t give you more than 60-40 odds of that, even.

And, excluding Florida, Michigan and caucus states, Obama has a 700,000 vote edge in the popular vote. Out of an expected 12 million voters in remaining Democratic primaries, Clinton would have to get a 6.4 million-5.6 million edge to win them, or 53-47 percent. I don’t see it happening, which strips the “primary vote winner” argument away as a possibility to sway superdelegates.

Clinton will of course not give up before Pennsylvania.

Should my prediction be right, she should give up after that. But she won’t.

Shroud of Turin believers grasp at straws again

Yes, naïve or, more often, self-delusional Shroud sympaticos are once again making the claims that 1988 radiocarbon tests were inaccurate. Please. We’ve heard this before.

The Today Show piece is one-sided in not quoting a single Shroud skeptic to refute those claims, the claims about “ancient Mediterranean pollen grains,” that too much handling of the Shroud threw off radiocarbon calculations, that there actually is blood on the Shroud (there isn’t, at least none that’s been identified) and more.

Of course, that’s nothing new either. American TV trots out gullibility-driven twaddle like this around Christian religious holidays, as do major newsmagazines.

See Skeptic’s Dictionary for the truth about all these claims.
The suggestions that modern biological contaminants were sufficient to modernize the date are also ridiculous. A weight of 20th century carbon equaling nearly two times the weight of the Shroud carbon itself would be required to change a 1st century date to the 14th century. Besides this, the linen cloth samples were very carefully cleaned before analysis at each of the C-dating laboratories.

But, Shroud sympaticos will continue to bring up new red herrings, as Bob Carroll notes at Skeptic’s Dictionary.

Greenspan lied, mortgages died

That’s the nickel version of St. Alan of Greenspan defending his record as Federal Reserve chairman.

But, others such as former vice-chair Alan Blinder, beg to differ:
“Lending standards were being horribly relaxed, and the Fed should have done something about that, not to mention about deceptive and in some cases fraudulent practices. This was a corner of the credit markets that was allowed to go crazy. It was populated by a lot of people with minimal financial literacy who were being sold bills of goods by mortgage salesmen.”

Former Fed governor Ned Gramlich agreed last year:
“This whole subprime experience has demonstrated that taking rates down could have some real costs, in terms of encouraging excessive subprime borrowing." There was “a giant hole in the supervisory safety net. . . . It is like a city with a murder law but no cops on the beat.”

Greenspan defended the boom in subprime mortgages as “worth the risk.”

I guess that includes the risk of lowering banks’ marginal requirements and not regulating them. Not to mention non-bank mortgage brokers.

Clinton religious baggage worse than Obama?

It’s arguable, definitely, that The Fellowship, Hillary Clinton’s Capitol Hill prayer group umbrella organization, is worse than Barack Obama’s Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

Barbara Ehrenreich certainly makes that argument.

Associating with right-wing thugs as a para-religious, para-spiritual military backstop for our government’s doing the same in the 1960s and 1970s is odious enough:

But, given that Clinton has supported, strongly, the Defense of Marriage Act, she doesn’t rate that much more gay-friendly than Obama would come off as being, either. Maybe less so.

And, her religious patriotism, if you will, making her willing to support criminalizing flag burning also shows her commitment to civil liberties in general is thin, and perhaps driven by religious belief

Kathryn Joyce and Jeff Sharlet offer more about the group.

It’s probably time to put a new post or two up on my one other blog, about my strongly desired but sadly nonexistent Science and Reason Party.

Bipedalism started much earlier in human ancestors

Human ancestors were walking upright as early as 6 million years ago, according to new analysis of a fossil thigh bone.

The analysis will probably provoke new analysis of the climate in Kenya of that date, where the fossil was found, as to possible causes to drive and promote the evolution of bipedalism.

Richardson changes mind and endorses Obama

Before the Texas/Ohio primary dates, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson had given some indication he didn’t want to pull the trigger on an endorsement until there was a bit more separation in the race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Well, this morning, he changed his mind and endorsed Obama. With Obama struggling to put Rev. Jeremiah Wright behind him, while at the same time, Clinton struggles with being revealed as pro-NAFTA after all, the endorsement is timely. And, given how much Clinton has targeted Hispanics, the endorsement by the country’s highest-ranking Hispanic elected official can’t hurt, either. And, given his Cabinet-level and private experience in foreign affairs, it also helps refute Clinton’s “3 a.m. phone call” idea.

On the coffee table – Marching toward Hell

Thinking of reading Michael Scheuer’s new book, “Marching toward Hell”? Don’t.

Here’s why:

Scheuer comes off as a Tridentine Catholic for whom half the world ended at Worms, 1521, and the rest on a Paris tennis court in 1789. Or else, as though he had just stepped out of the receiving line at a soiree for Andrew Jackson’s first inauguration. Think of Pat Buchanan as a career CIA agent, perhaps.

As for any plaudits for Scheuer’s alleged Realpolitik, this is not Realpolitik but rather Scheuer’s schizophrenic distortion of that.

From questioning our relationship to Israel to analyzing just how broad our professional class’ ignorance of the Muslim world is, one can find actual Realpolitik in new books. Mearsheimer and Walt admirably cover what’s wrong with our one-way relationship with Israel, while Robert Fisk, though not a current or former intelligence agent, gives a wonderful journalist’s insight on today’s Arab “street.” I suspect that another retired or soon-to-retire CIA agent has done (if I don’t know about it), or will do, better on the intelligence insider information part of Realpolitick.

And, even in Realpolitik, he often gets it wrong, such as his call to have annihilated Iraq in the Gulf War.

Elsewhere:
1. He puts Reagan on an undeserved pedestal for “toppling” the USSR, ignoring that country’s internal fissures while calling Gorbachev a “nuclear gangster”;
2. Openly wonders whether the First Amendment can successfully be extended to the religious liberty of atheists and otherwise generally decries “secularism,” “atheism” and (implied atheist) “European elites”;
3. Repeats the Carter “malaise” myth;
4. Blames “environmental purists” whose “fanaticism” keeps us from having “reasonable and much-needed environmental protections”;
5. Apparently doesn’t believe in a free press, when he talks about “the U.S. military stupidly televised its killing of Muslims” in the Gulf War (I’m unaware of the existence of a Military Channel);
6. Claims humans are hardwired for war, both overstating claims of realistic empirical psychology and making the elemental “is” vs. “ought” mistake David Hume describes;
7. Stereotypes NGOs as “antinationalist organizations”;
8. And, speaking of schizophrenic, can rip a person to shreds on page, then praise them to the heavens the next.

And that’s just in the first third of the book. Think of Pat Buchanan as a career CIA agent and you have the tone of this book about right.

Beyond this, the only bit of insight that he forcefully gets right is that we’ve lost Afghanistan and need to move on.

In short, don’t bother reading this mix of diatribe and canard.

March 20, 2008

Amy Sullivan an equal-opportunity peddler of Dem stereotypes on religion

Amy Sullivan talks about why Obama opted for a black church like Jeremiah Wright’s:
In his books, Obama says he might not have become a Christian — his mother was a skeptical secularist and his absent father an atheist — if not for the special character of the black church. “Out of necessity, the black church had to minister to the whole person. Out of necessity, the black church rarely had the luxury of separating individual salvation from collective salvation,” he writes in “The Audacity of Hope.” It also matched his intellectual curiosity. “Perhaps it was out of this ... grounding of faith in struggle that the historically black church offered me a second insight: that faith doesn’t mean that you don't have doubts.”


Between there and her second most recent, and second most recent, Washington Monthly posts, she perpetuates stereotypes about Democrats, white Christians and black Christians all at the same time, from claiming, “many Democrats find religion offensive,” on.

I’m going to do another takedown on Amy here. There are true multi-ethnic churches led by black pastors who also question Rev. Jeremiah Wright. And, as for understanding “black Christianity” in sociological terms, and the call for black and white Christians to understand each other, end “the most segregated hour in America,” etc... well, that understanding and reaching out need to go both ways. Amy, if you can show me examples of Rev. Wright “reaching out,” I’m ready to listen.

Hey, if not, if he wants to run a shtick called “black Christianity,” that’s fine. And, yes, Mitt Romney should have gotten drilled about the long racist history of Mormonism. Neither religious view would be considered “orthodox Christianity” by most laypeople or scholars, ignoring that “orthodox Christianity” itself was a four-century accretion, at least.

Now, a personal anecdote to all of this, Amy.

When I was still religious, I played the organ semi-regularly at a Lutheran, mainline Protestant church in Flint, Mich. The church was about 50-50 white black. The white pastor had what would certainly be considered for the conservative wing of Lutheranism a pretty “black” preaching style, and somewhat, a style of worship in general. And, he was married to a black wife.

He commented on real world daily social issues, etc. But, he was never bombastic, let alone a bomb-thrower.

In short, Amy Sullivan, beyond the stereotypes you perpetuate about “many Democrats,” aren't you perpetuating another one about “black Christianity”?

Oh, if you think Amy’s a twit on her guilt-the-Democratic-Party religious writing, or in general, show her a little “love” at her e-mail address.

GOP spying on Obama passport? Or Clinton? Or whom?

Two State Department contract employees have been firedfor sneaking peeks at Barack Obama’s passport:
Spokesman Sean McCormack said the department itself detected the instances of “imprudent curiosity,” which occurred separately on Jan. 9, Feb. 21 and March 14. He would not release the names of the employees.

McCormack added that he didn’t know what companies employed the two.

This Obama campaign response is certainly in order:
“This is an outrageous breach of security and privacy, even from an administration that has shown little regard for either over the last eight years,” Obama spokesman Bill Burton said in a statement. “This is a serious matter that merits a complete investigation, and we demand to know who looked at Senator Obama’s passport file, for what purpose, and why it took so long for them to reveal this security breach.”

Is there any significance to the dates?

Josh Marshall notes they’re the day before the New Hampshire primary, the day of the Texas debate between Obama and Hillary Clinton and the day the Wright controversy started heating up. He also notes that similar happened to Bill Clinton in 1992.

The delay issue is certainly interesting. And deserves more scrutiny.

But, let’s not do the “bulls-eye” fallacy either, as The Skeptic’s Dictionary calls shooting some random info at a wall, then drawing a circle around it afterward and saying you’ve “hit a bullseye.”

The New Hampshire primary, day before? The day of Texas debate? Possible conspiracy relevance. Were these two people leaking info to Hillary Clinton? The GOP? Both? Was the GOP leaking info to Clinton?

But, March 14 as “the day the Wright story really hit”? I think not. That story has been percolating and building steam for some time. And, the passport search would seem irrelevant to the Wright issue. Rev. Jeremiah Wright was going to be a problem for Obama anyway.

Wright is an AIDS conspiracy theorist

Yes, I’m aware of the Tuskegee medical experiments our government conducted on blacks from 1932-72. But, that doesn’t make two wrongs a right, or a Wright.

Slate has this direct quote, that Wright said the government “invent(ed) the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color,” in an article about AIDS conspiracy theories.

The Washington Post confirms the full quote, “The government lied about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color,” as coming from a 2003 sermon.

(The “genocide against people of color” plus “Jeremiah Wright” gets 45 Google News hits.

“Inventing” is the key word. Rev. Wright is, sadly, an AIDS conspiracy theorist.

Beyond that, it is true, as a generalization, that the black church has been hostile to gays, which means that gay blacks in a church like Wright’s face a double stigma if they test HIV-positive.

They’re stigmatized as gay, and now, the conspiracy theorists probably think they’re contagious, too.

And, while Barack Obama tackled some other of Wright’s comments in Obama’s much-ballyhooed March 18 speech, he didn’t even reference this one. He probably doesn’t want to touch it with a 10-foot pole.

Re Obama’s relations with Wright, Bloomberg unearths a tidbit about Obama’s financial support for Wright and Trinity UCC.

Obama gave the church $22,500 in 2006, according to tax returns. That certainly doesn’t sound like someone unaware of what his pastor was saying.

TCU still behind Wright invite but with more stealth

As I blogged earlier this week, Texas Christian University’s Brite Divinity School is standing behind an already-extended invitation to controversial pastor Jeremiah Wright. Brite decided months ago to honor Rev. Wright, pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago.

But now, they’re standing a little further behind… as in moving the March 29 event off campus. Brite is separately incorporated, but on the TCU campus. TCU’s board of trustees made the call:
Luther King, chairman of the TCU board, said in the written statement that “while the university should be a place where controversial opinions are freely expressed, the safety and security of students, faculty and staff are the primary concern of the board.”


As I blogged earlier, nonetheless, expect local winger Mark Davis, national winger Rush Limbaugh, or other wingers to organize protests at TCU, to call on Obama to denounce TCU, etc.

Or, as more about Rev. Wright’s AIDS comments come out, if he has any other gay comments that are less than ideal, we could see gay protestors there, too.

Unless Brite has a very private site, and announces it at the last minutes, or decides not to do so at all, the fireworks could ramp up.

Tax returns refute Obama being unaware of Wright statements

In his much-ballyhooed speech March 18, Barack Obama again repeated the idea that he was not aware of many of Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s comments. (For the sake of a clean thread on this post, we’ll ignore that Wright’s philosophy, beyond any individual comments, seem to be what attracted Obama to Wright when Obama was still at Harvard Divinity School.)

Well, Obama’s tax returns would seem to refute the idea that he was an unaware member of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ.

Re Obama’s relations with Wright, Bloomberg unearths a tidbit about Obama’s financial support for Wright and Trinity UCC.

Obama gave the church $22,500 in 2006, according to tax returns. That certainly doesn’t sound like someone unaware of what his pastor was saying.

Obama’s 2007 tax return is here (PDF).

Cards lock up Wainwright

The St. Louis Cardinals, in what may be the smartest re-signing of one of their own players since Albert Pujols several years ago, have inked on the rise pitcher Adam Wainright to a new four-year contract at the bargain price, in today’s baseball world, of $15 million.

The deal is also friendly to Wainwright in the longer term, with two option years that could up the contract to $36 million.
The 26-year-old Wainwright went 14-12 with a 3.70 ERA in his first year in the rotation after serving as the closer in the 2006 World Series. His win total is the best in franchise history for a first-year starter, and his 2.71 ERA after the All-Star break was third-best in the National League.

The deal is heavily backloaded. It includes a $750,000 signing bonus with salaries of $500,000 this year, $2.6 million in 2009, $4.65 million in 2010 and 6.5 million in 2011. There are club options at $9 million in 2012 and $12 million in 2013.

A great deal to give long-term stability to the starting rotation. Now, addressing the middle infield for the longer term is the next step.

Could 2008 Dem convention be like 1964?

For those old enough to remember, or students of history, the 1964 Democratic convention in Atlantic City became hugely contentious over which of two Democratic slates from Mississippi to seat, either the official but lily-white one, or the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.

Now, rguments over Michigan delegates and no chance of a Democratic revote in Florida make me wonder if the same could happen again.

That would mean a floor fight, which in turn would make superdelegates opinions even more valuable.

If not quite as serious as the Democrats in 1964, this could at least be the biggest convention showdown since the Republicans in Kansas City in 1976.

iPhones suck…

Or how aggressive public relations and customer service can hide a bad project

Scroll down to the MY FOURTH iPHONE to read the details of how and why: Suffice it to say that, as long as customers like Andrew Tobias exist:
I remain a basically very happy customer, even if it’s been a bit of an adventure. And they have provided me with four phones in seven months.

Corporate bullshitting CEOs like Steve Jobs will be showing just how right P.T. Barnum was.

Of course, Barnum didn’t add the first corollary to his “a sucker is born every minute” bit of genius. And, that is… “suckers often become that way because of their own ego.”

This SocraticGadfly genius corollary explains just how Jobs milks people’s egos, speaking of genius:
But two nights ago, shortly after midnight, I went on-line to make an appointment at the Genius Bar … Within 10 minutes, my Genius determined I needed a new phone.

What non-reflective, at least mildly egotistical or even pompous golden years yuppie wouldn’t have his ego stroked to the point of psychological orgasm by having a “genius” wait on him?

Obama had Unitarian option Amy Sullivan ignores

Amy Sullivan talks about why Obama opted for a black church like Jeremiah Wright’s:
In his books, Obama says he might not have become a Christian — his mother was a skeptical secularist and his absent father an atheist — if not for the special character of the black church. “Out of necessity, the black church had to minister to the whole person. Out of necessity, the black church rarely had the luxury of separating individual salvation from collective salvation,” he writes in “The Audacity of Hope.” It also matched his intellectual curiosity. “Perhaps it was out of this ... grounding of faith in struggle that the historically black church offered me a second insight: that faith doesn’t mean that you don't have doubts.”

Several comments in reply to Sullivan’s backstory, as well as Obama’s stream of thought.

First, even secularists can be, and are, contributors to social justice, Amy. I know you keep flogging the issue that the Democratic Party in general and too many white Democrats in particular are anti-religious, which is of course not true.

Second, re both Sullivan and Obama, many white preachers at white majority churches also talk about doubt and its role in faith. That goes back to the Niebuhr brothers. Hell, it goes back to Martin Luther himself.

Third, Unitarians have been multicultural for far longer, and far more in-depth, than mainline Protestant denominations that have made the effort at fully inclusive outreach.

And, political bonus points — Unitarians are often the liberal elite Starbucks drinkers that are Obama voters!

Given Sullivan’s increasing vapidness, and now her name/assignment dropping she engages in, at every post at Washington Monthly, though, none of what she says in Time should be a surprise.

Oh, if you think Amy’s a twit on her guilt-the-Democratic-Party religious writing, or in general, show her a little “love” at her e-mail address.

Borders crumbling and books could be consolidating

No, we’re not talking about the geographical dividing line between the U.S. and Mexico but the bookstore. It had liquidity problems before being extended a loan by its largest shareholder, hedge fund Pershing Square Capital Management.

But… that’s at 12.5 percent interest, which isn’t really viable. And… the loan includes an option to buy Borders.
The sales agreement announced Thursday gives Borders the option until Jan. 15 to require Pershing Square to pay $125 million for its international business, which includes Borders' Paperchase, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore subsidiaries. But Borders said it must pursue the sale of those operations elsewhere before any deal with Pershing.

Beyond the liquidity, Borders says its losing business to online sellers like Amazon and discounters like Wal-Mart.

And, it’s not just Borders. Barnes & Noble said its fourth-quarter profits were off 9 percent. It said that if Borders’ investment bankers contacted it, it would listen.

The flip side is that Borders’ same-store sales in the fourth quarter were up 2.1 percent from a year ago and increased for the third straight quarter.

No wonder Pentagon sees no Iraq fraud

It’s happening on the inside:
Richard T. Race, the Pentagon inspector general's chief investigator of procurement fraud and official misconduct, quit his job and pleaded guilty last month to violating U.S. banking laws.

The previously unpublicized case was filed Feb. 26 in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, according to court papers. Race, 61, admitted he made cash deposits at the Pentagon's credit union on three straight days in March 2007 that were designed to evade laws that track large currency transactions. The government seized the total of $20,000 in deposits as part of the plea deal.

It appears Race was trying to avoid some IRS reporting, as well.

So, he’s the perfect person to oversee Halliburton and its dodging, filching and mismanagement on government contracts, all while surely taking IRS write-offs for all of this mismanagement, or even possible downright fraud.

Robert Fisk has a GREAT take on the Iraq 5-year anniversary

British journalist, historian, and all-around chronicler of the Middle East Robert Fisk offers his take on “The only lesson we ever learn is that we never learn”.
Much of it attacks the Blair administration for becoming more American-like in having its politics driven by press conferences and TV deadlines. But the heart of the essay, and its title, is touchstoned by a Pat Buchanan quote:
“With our MacArthur Regency in Baghdad, Pax Americana will reach apogee. But then the tide recedes, for the one endeavour at which Islamic people excel is expelling imperial powers by terror or guerrilla war.

“They drove the Brits out of Palestine and Aden, the French out of Algeria, the Russians out of Afghanistan, the Americans out of Somalia and Beirut, the Israelis out of Lebanon. We have started up the road to empire and over the next hill we will meet those who went before. The only lesson we learn from history is that we do not learn from history.”

Fisk then tackles the Blairs, Bushes and others who postured as Churchills, despite not knowing, or listening to, history. He derisively says we should call the former British PM “Anthony Blair — as we should always have called this small town lawyer.”

Then, Fisk offers new looks at the grim statistics of casualties:
The total of US dead in Iraq (3,978) is well over the number of American casualties suffered in the initial D-Day landings at Normandy (3,384 killed and missing) on 6 June, 1944, or more than three times the total British casualties at Arnhem the same year (1,200). …

Iraqi casualties allow an even closer comparison to the Second World War. Even if we accept the lowest of fatality statistics for civilian dead – they range from 350,000 up to a million – these long ago dwarfed the number of British civilian dead in the flying-bomb blitz on London in 1944-45 (6,000) and now far outnumber the total figure for civilians killed in bombing raids across the United Kingdom – 60,595 dead, 86,182 seriously wounded – from 1940 to 1945.

Indeed, the Iraqi civilian death toll since our invasion is now greater than the total number of British military fatalities in the Second World War, which came to an astounding 265,000 dead (some histories give this figure as 300,000) and 277,000 wounded. Minimum estimates for Iraqi dead mean that the civilians of Mesopotamia have suffered six or seven Dresdens or – more terrible still – two Hiroshimas.

And, non-casualty statistics on why we continue to draw Osama bin Laden’s ire;
If there are, as I now calculate, 22 times as many Western troops in the Muslim world as there were at the time of the 11th and 12th century Crusades, we must ask what we are doing. Are we there for oil? For democracy? For Israel? For fear of weapons of mass destruction? Or for fear of Islam?

The problem is, as Fisk has stated, all too few people have asked these questions. And, all too many of those in power have only asked them in a rhetorical sense, having already supplied their own answers.

Hypocrisy alert – NWF et al join USPS in loving junk mail

NWF and others also hypocrites on gimme gifts

The U.S. Postal Service, though barred by law from official government lobbying, is strongly fighting “Do Not Mail” registries at the state government level. Such registries would be similar to the federal Do Not Call anti-telemarketing phone registry.

Sean Sheehan of the progressive activist group Center for a New American Dream, said state efforts may precede national action, just as they did with the Do Not Call Registry.

Making interesting, if not strange, bedfellows, with USPS, among others, are environmental groups.
A national registry “would affect anybody who mails,” said Laura Hickey, senior director of global warming education at the National Wildlife Foundation, which belongs to the Direct Marketing Association. “I don’t think it would be any different whether you were for-profit or nonprofit.” As an alternative, the National Wildlife Foundation, the Natural Resources Defense Council and other groups have created Catalogue Choice, a program that asks retailers to voluntarily stop sending catalogues to anyone who signs up for its free online service.

Yeah, but NWF and other enviro groups don’t publicize Catalogue Choice enough, I don’t think. AND, Hickey is being disingenuous, because that just covers catalogs, anyway, and not junk mail letters — i.e., enviro groups’ solicitation letters.

Oh, and while we’re on hypocrisy, groups like NWF could stuff sending Made in China gimmes as trinkets for subscription renewers. Not getting something from an American factory costs jobs, and given most Chinese factories, hurts the environment, too.
And the USPS solution of recycling bins in post offices doesn’t help people at home, and it is shutting the barn door after the horses are out.

Hypocrisy alert – Gov. Paterson

So now it’s coming out new New York Gov. David Paterson billed an election campaign of his for expenses for one of his extramarital flings. And, all jokes aside, he billed the “constitutent services” line on his campaign finance accounts.

His allegedly honest opening press conference, after replacing Eliot Spitzer, apparently wasn’t so honest.
On Tuesday, in an extraordinary Albany news conference, Paterson admitted he’d had affairs with several women, but insisted he never “knowingly” used campaign cash for his trysts. It’s illegal to use campaign money for personal expenses.

In an interview with The New York Daily News yesterday, he admitted that sometime when he was Senate minority leader from November, 2002 through 2006, he apparently used a campaign credit card for a liaison with a woman he wouldn't name at the Quality Hotel (now the Days Inn) on the upper West Side.

“I do remember that there was a time I might have had to use the [campaign] card because my other [personal] card didn't work,” he said. He said the stay cost about $100, but didn’t recall when it occurred.

Great.

Well, the New York GOP will be after him soon enough. I don’t know if New York State has a special prosecutor law or not, but it appears Patterson broke the law.

Marriage is either better or worse than being single

A new study shows a good marriage can lower your blood pressure but a bad one can make it worse than being single. It’s the first study of its sort to show that marriage can sometimes be adverse to one’s health, compared to being single.

Even worse than contaminated heparin

A rat’s head was found in snack food in South Korea — snack food made in China. The Korean snack is cracker dough mixed with shrimp, neither of which is rat-like.
The Korea Food and Drug Administration will send investigators to the factory in Qingdao in eastern China, which performs initial production steps for shrimp crackers sold by South Korea’s leading processed food company Nongshim, said Choi Jong-dong, a KFDA official.

Of course, this next part sounds like it could happen here in America, just like South Korea:
Nongshim also has been under fire following revelations it continued to sell the snack even after it received a customer's complaint on Feb. 18 about the animal part found in the snack.

Anyway, besides boycotting the Olympic opening ceremony, if I’m a foreign dignitary, I’m boycotting Chinese food while I’m there.

Looks like the Preznit has a Rezko connection

Supposedly Barack Obama’s millstone weight, Tony Rezko, was at a 2003 holiday reception for President Bush. White House spokesman Scott Stanzel admitted Rezko was there Dec. 3, 2003. And, he apparently got there through connections with a Bush big-time fundraiser.

I’m sure, now that this doorway has been popped open a crack, Rezko-watching is going to take on a whole new dimension.

Hell, next thing you know, Smilin’ Jack Abramoff will turn out to have links to Rezko.

Hillary papers put egg on her face

Hillary Clinton’s daily scheduling papers for her eight years as First Lady could blow up in her face.

First, after attacking Barack Obama in the Ohio primary for his alleged “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” on NAFTA, we have this:
Among the thousands of details of daily life for Clinton, there was a November 10, 1993, entry — a “NAFTA Briefing drop-by,” in Room 450 of the executive office building next door to the White House, closed to the news media.

Approximately 120 people were expected to attend the briefing, and Clinton was to be introduced by White House aide Alexis Herman for brief remarks concluding the program.

She hasn’t yet told husband Bill’s whoppers, that there was nothing he could do to get labor and environmental side accords, but don’t worry, that will be coming soon.

Besides that, being in the White House most of the times Bill encountered Monica Lewinsky could raise judgment issues, especially on the heels of Eliot Spitzer. That shows up, too, amongst other things.

I have a feeling we’re going to mine new lows in hypocrisy before the Pennsylvania primary is upon us, while Schmuck Talk Express™ reaches for new heights of sanctimony.

Texas needs a new method of choosing state judges

The Texas system, with competitive party primaries followed by a partisan general election, has two dangers.

One is that it injects partisan politics into the one branch of state government that is supposed to be above partisanship.

Two is that it objects obscene amounts of money, with its own possibility of creating judicial bias, into what is supposed to be an unbiased court system.

In Illinois in 2004, for example, state Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier spent $9.3 million to get elected. When asked about that afterward, Karmeier said:

“That’s obscene for a judicial race. What does it gain people? How can anybody have faith in the system?”

Indeed.

And, as Republicanism in Texas likely reaches high tide and Democrats become more competitive again in more parts of the state, the likelihood of something similar in Texas will only increase.

But, it doesn’t have to be that way. Neighboring New Mexico is among states with a better alternative.

There, state district, appellate and supreme court justices are appointed by the governor.

But, unlike the federal court system, this is not a lifetime appointment.
In the first general election after that, the appointed judge must go through the partisan election process.

If elected, after that, every four years, these judges face what is called a retention election.

No opponent is on the ballot. The judge simply runs against his or her own judicial record of the past four years, and public perception of that. If the judge loses the retention election, they lose office, the governor appoints a replacement, and the process starts over.

With the possible exception of getting rid of the original partisan election and starting off with retention elections, I see no reason why Texas shouldn’t adopt something similar.

March 19, 2008

Earth Hour 2008 coming up

Remember when the Sidney Opera House turned off its lights last year? WWF and other groups want to make that global this year and get you to turn off your lights from 8-9 p.m. local time March 29. More information here.

Khadr says Gitmo rape threat made

The Canadian arrested for allegedly killing a U.S. soldier with a grenade during a firefight in Afghanistan says he was threatened with rape and other tortures. Result?

The deliberately mislabeled prisoner of war gave false info to his interrogators just to make them happy.

And that is why torture doesn’t work.

Wainwright looking good for the Cards so far

With the spring training he’s having so far, maybe he can be a real ace and not just a de facto ace. He has the mindset for it, saying he looked forward to pitching against the Mets’ new ace Johan Santana, even if just in a spring training game.

Frank wants more investment bank regulation

Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank, head of the House Financial Services Committee, says investment banks have outpaced government regulation and new standards are needed. I totally agree.

And here’s part of how we got into that fix, and new standards are needed, another gift that keeps on giving from St. Alan Greenspan.

Problem is, in the past, Frank has been ready to “loosen things up” himself at times. Yes, he voted against Gramm-Leach-Bliley, but wasn’t against the general spirit of the act. So, when Frank says “new standards,” regulations might be passed allowing new activities in some investment areas, rather than an across-the-board tightening down.

And, Gramm-Leach was another of those Clinton-era things that, although sponsored by Republicans, was gladly signed on for by Clinton and many other New Dem types. It did pass the House 362-57 and Senate 90-8

EPA OK with stinky megafarms

The Environmental Protection Agency pulled another fast one Dec. 28, just coming to light. It wants to waive requirements that megafarms, i.e., concentrated animal feeding operations, would have to report high ammonia or hydrogen sulfide releases. Hell, H2S is poisonous.

But the EPA says no big deal.
“(The exemption) is also protective of human health and the environment and consistent with the agency's goal to reduce reporting burden where there would likely be no federal, state or local emergency response to such release reports,” Shradar said.

So, people getting sick from stinky farms with 10,000 hogs, 20,000 cows or 50,000 chickens is no big deal then.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association agrees, claiming cow manure is not a toxic substance. Bullshit — pun intended.

Iraq War five-year mark quietly observed

The clock bell in old Dallas City Hall tolled. It was just calling the time, of 7 p.m. Later, though, more bells tolled in Dealey Plaza, at the peace rally marking the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq.

The crowd was small. Far smaller than the pre-war rally at the Kennedy Memorial. Smaller than the one-year rally. Smaller than Bush protest rallies.

The Dallas Morning News? AWOL, as was its sister TV station, WFAA, and the other major networks.

But, some people were there. Some people did read the signs we held up. Some people, over 18 but under 25, asked what was happening, even when my sign said, “Five years is long enough, get us out of Iraq.”

And, so, the slow, deadly drip of apathy, because George W. Bush is using the Chinese purchasing of U.S. Treasury securities to pay for this war, is the ultimate lesson, the ultimate frustration, at the five-year mark.

Fed rate cut vote not unanimous

As he did on the previous three-quarters point cut, Dallas Federal Reserve President Richard W. Fisher dissented. He did so, alone, in January. This time he was joined by Philadelphia Fed chief Charles Plosser. Both said, in indications they are more worried about inflation than Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, The Worst Fed Head Since Greenspan™.
“Containing inflation is the purpose of the ship I crew for,” Fisher said (earlier this month).

“And if a temporary economic slowdown is what we must endure while we achieve that purpose, then it is, in my opinion, a burden we must bear, however politically inconvenient.”

Beyond Fisher’s dissent, saying the Fed needs to worry more about inflation, the second three-quarter point cut this year has one other problem:

It smacks of desperation
“ think it is true that Federal Reserve actions coming closely one after the other in the last few weeks — while no doubt are helpful for the economy — they carry with them a risk that people will perceive them as involving some slight desperation,” said Marvin Goodfriend, economics professor at the Carnegie Mellon University.

Well, the market gave away most of yesterday’s gains. Apparently smoke and mirrors, or voodoo rate cuts, only go so far in assuaging insecurity, greed, or a combination thereof.

Spring is already here …

Courtesy of global warming.

The problem is, the hastened arrival of spring is coming at different times for different plants and animals, adapting at different rates.

And, it’s not just other critters. People are suffering longer allergy seasons. Pollens, on average, are being first produced about 20 hours earlier each year in middle latitudes of the United States.

Unless your name is George W. Bush, even that relatively minor inconvenience is nothing to sneeze at.

WaMu says screw mortgage holders and save exec bonuses

Surely Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke was making sure, withits executive bonus worries, Washington Mutual was under his especial focus of his three-quarter point rate cut, and will be at the front of the line for future bailout needs:
After CEO Kerry Killinger and other top executives missed all or a big part of their bonus pay last year, Washington Mutual wasted little time taking steps to apparently make sure it won't happen again — even if the mortgage market and the company remain in the tank.

The board decided in February to use different performance yardsticks that could make it look like Killinger and other top executives were doing great jobs — and all but ensure them millions of dollars in bonuses for 2008. ...

If the bank meets its watered-down performance hurdles this year, Killinger stands to pocket $3.6 million as a bonus for 2008, or about 365% of his base salary.

Shockingly, he'd get that bonus even if shareholders see more lousy performance at Washington Mutual. Killinger is at least partly responsible, given that he led the bank so deeply into the subprime morass. The company reported a nearly $1.9 billion loss in the fourth quarter of 2007, and analysts have forecast losses throughout 2008.

Those huge losses piling up because of subprime loans and foreclosures? At bonus time, the bank will ignore them.
Somehow, I doubt WaMu will let you “ignore” a mortgage payment just because you, too have “huge losses piling up.”

But, there is one way you can strike back:
Executive bonuses will be doled out for squishy achievements such as improvements in customer loyalty.

Got money in WaMu? Move it. Anywhere.

Got a loan it originated? Find a way to move that too.

And when WaMu calls you, tell it where it can shove its fucking customer loyalty.

Unfortunately, as the second and third webpages make clear, WaMu isn’t alone in lowering the bar on executive bonus targets.

Where is The CEO President? Why is he not decrying “the soft bigotry of low executive expectations”?

Rumsfeld ‘messy war’ boomerang – Iraq war looting comes home to roost

Donald Rumsfeld’s “things are messy in wartime” comments in 2003, which was made in reference to looting of Iraq’s cultural and historical antiquities, among other things, has now come home to roost.

Some of those same looted antiquities are now funding Iraqi insurgents:
Marine Reserve Col. Matthew Bogdanos claimed that both Sunni insurgents, such as al Qaeda in Iraq, and Shiite militias are receiving funding from the trafficking. …

“Well, (unlike Afghanistan), they don’t have opium in Iraq,” he said. “What they have is an almost limitless supply of is antiquities. And so they're using antiquities.”

So, if you’re out at a war anniversary rally tonight, remember that, beyond all of his other fuckups, Don Rumsfeld has just a little bit more blood on his hands now.

Starbucks vs. Dunkin’ Donuts on Dem coffee divide?

This is 10 times sillier than “soccer mom” or similar. Probably Mark Penn is talking about micro-microtrends.

What about people who prefer Seattle’s Best, which, ironically, is owned by Starbucks, which therefore must not be Seattle’s best? Or Pete’s? Or La Madelaine, if that’s in your area?

Or, a local coffeehouse, if you have one that makes coffee at least as good as any of the above? Wouldn’t true progressives favor that above all others?

(Stipulation: The local coffeehouse has to be as good as any of the above. In my area of suburban Dallas, I don’t have such.)

Will Obama match Iraq speech rhetoric with political action?

Barack Obama has a a very good speech on Iraq on the fifth anniversary of the war’s start.

Rightly, he notes that John McCain wants to talk about military tactics, and not whether this war strategically benefits the United States, let alone whether it is morally viable.
It is time to have a debate with John McCain about the future of our national security. And the way to win that debate is not to compete with John McCain over who has more experience in Washington, because that's a contest that he'll win. The way to win a debate with John McCain is not to talk, and act, and vote like him on national security, because then we all lose.

Nor does McCain want to talk about how he would finance the Iraq war differently than President Bush, despite all his posturing about being fiscally responsible.

That said, Obama hasn’t matched rhetoric with reality since actually getting sworn in as Illinois’ junior senator. He’s acted like a typical first-term junior senator.

As I said yesterday in reflecting on his relations with Rev. Jeremiah Wright, on Iraq, also, Obama has been trying to stand on top of two stools, one as “responsible politician” and one as “change-maker.” Other than trying to bring a new paradigm to racial — and larger socioeconomic — issues, foreign policy, especially Iraq, and beyond that, related transnational issues, is where Obama’s “change” mantra hits the road between these two stools.

If Obama gets elected, and delivers on his pre-2004 rhetoric with action, I’ll give him a champagne toast on the pages of this blog. But, not yet.

Italian CIA rendition trial gets go-ahead

Rome, like BushCo, had claimed “state secrets” should prevent an Italian trial in absentia of 26 CIA agents. No dice, Italian Judge Oscar Magi has ruled.

Last June, Nagi suspended proceedings in what is the world’s first criminal case involving the U.S. “rendition” of alleged terrorists to countries, often Arab-world totalitarian ones, for torture. Nagi had said trial should wait until Italy’s highest court ruled whether prosecutors had broken state secrecy rules when building their case.

But, Nagi eventually got tired of waiting, and if nothing else than to light a fire under Italy’s top court, has waved the trial ahead. Given that Italy faces a national election April 13-14, this could be “interesting.”

Perennial Arctic ice melting faster

In the latest dicey global warming news, about 1 million square miles of perennial Arctic ice melted in the last year. That’s an area of about half again as large as Alaska.

The perennial ice is ice more than one year old. Most of it is near the North Pole. The melting of that much “established” ice that close to the pole is what has scientific alarm bells ringing.
“Thickness is an indicator of long-term health of sea ice, and that’s not looking good at the moment,” Walt Meier of the National Snow and Ice Data Center told reporters in a telephone briefing.

Even ice six years old or older is shrinking. That ice lost almost 600,000 square miles, an area more than twice the size of Texas.

Now, per the story, this does not mean total ice volume lost — yet. The Arctic Ocean is not suddenly wide open.

It does mean that in many areas, the stronger perennial ice is being replaced by younger, frailer new ice that is more easily disturbed by wind and warm sea temperatures. Which means that the Arctic is in danger of becoming more and more open.

‘Virtual water’ wins prize

No, this isn’t a joke for the gullible. The scientist who figured out how much water is used in any production process, such as the ultimate water cost of a cup of morning java, has been awarded the 2008 Stockholm Water Prize . Here’s what John Anthony Allan’s discovery is all about, according to the Stockholm Water Institute:
“Behind that morning cup of coffee, there are 140 liters of water that was consumed to grow, produce, package and ship the beans.”

That is about as much water as a person in England uses on average for all daily drinking and household needs.

“For a single hamburger, an estimated 2,400 liters of water are needed. In the USA, the average person consumes nearly 7,000 liters of virtual water every day.” It said that was more than three times the average consumption of a Chinese person.

In other words, Allan’s work is a vital tool in analyzing global water use and management issues. As “developing nations” seek to become “developed,” water use is probably second only to oil use as a factor in this. That said, in many parts of the world, high-quality water supplies are about as scarce as oil, too.

Windows Vista really is crap – SP1 says so

Microsoft has just released the long-awaited/dreaded Service Pack 1 for Vista and the file is huge. It’s 435 megabytes at Microsoft’s downloads window.

Holy crap. For a file that size, you could build a new OS from scratch.

How huge? It will take more than an hour to download — on broadband.

Five years ago today

I took time during my spring vacation five years ago to join a protest the first weekend after Bush invaded Iraq. Tonight, I plan be in downtown Dallas’ Dealey Plaza, doing the same.

What are you doing?

Electric prices could soar starting next year

As if high gas prices aren’t bad enough, this certainly isn’t good news.

The cause? Most electric utilities have long-term coal contracts, similar to what some airlines have had on fuel. But in most cases, those contracts run out next year, and coal prices have skyrocketed in the past few years. The prices on the two most-mined American grades of coal are up 93 and 64 percent in the last year.
“Watch out, consumer,” said David M. Khani, a coal analyst at Friedman, Billings, Ramsey Group. “You’re probably going to see accelerating electricity prices in 2009, 2010 and 2011.”

And, some consumers are starting to feel a pinch now.
Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power, both American Electric Power subsidiaries, on Feb. 29 filed papers seeking approval in West Virginia for a 17 percent increase in revenues, mainly to pay for costlier coal. If the request is approved, a residential customer using 1,000 kilowatt hours a month would see his bill increase from $64.55 to $73.94, starting in July.

Coal is used for about half of American electric power production. It also is of importance in steel production, among other things.

And, coal exports are booming, as Big Coal licks its lips. “Bringing coals to Newcastle” no longer signifies an absurdity, but with British coal mostly tapped, instead means big business.

Hypocrisy watch – Religious Right versus Obama

Frank Schaeffer says his dad, evangelical minister and early Religious Right developer Francis Schaeffer, called for the government to be overthrown. In “Whatever Happened to the Human Race,” a favorite of Mike Huckabee’s, old man Schaeffer compared the U.S. to Germany under Hitler. And we all know about Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson saying 9/11 was, in essence, a warning, and other things in the same vein as Francis Schaeffer. But, with Jeremiah Wright, something half that “bad” is too much?

Shtick Talk Express™ final takes

Well, after Barack Obama’s Tuesday masterpiece, I’m almost ready to say we will have the Shtick Talk Express™ vs. the Schmuck Talk Express™ in the general election.

Per Huffington Post, with numerous other links, I think Obama probably told a few lies almost in McCain territory.

The biggest? To claim that, after 20 years at Trinity United Church of Christ, all under the pastorship of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, he had no idea Wright said some of the crap he did.

Anderson Cooper noted Obama listened to tapes of Wright while he was at Harvard Law. Makes you wonder more about how much deliberation went into his decision to move to Chicago.

because he “would have quit the church” if he heard them “if I had heard them repeated.”
And if I had thought that that was the tenor or tone on an ongoing basis of his sermons, then, yes, I don’t think that it would have been reflective of my values or my faith experience.

Please. Tell it to the Marines.

Or, here’s another take, one that lets Obama somewhat off the hook. Maybe he hasn’t been “praising Jesus” at Trinity all that often these past 20 years. (Of course, most Republicans that pander to the Religious Right from Ronald Reagan on haven’t gone to church that much themselves.)

As Rolling Stone’s Ben Wallace-Wells puts it bluntly, “He picked Jeremiah Wright.” (Emphasis in original.)

Wallace-Wells observes that Obama’s life is about a splicing of two roles.
Obama is at once an insider and an outsider, a bomb thrower and the class president. “I’m somebody who believes in this country and its institutions,” he tells me. “But I often think they’re broken.”

That’s an excellent insight. What’s now happened is that one of the stools has gone rotten under him in public view. And, to continue the analogy, Obama knew for some time the stool was rotting out, at least “rotting out” in terms of him being a mainstream political candidate.

What could Obama had done differently?

Well, his election to the U.S. Senate would have given him a dodge to not go to Trinity so often. However, all the old stuff, from Anderson Cooper’s finding out Obama “targeted” Wright at Harvard Law, eventually would have come up anyway.

But, he certainly could have been more prepared for this moment. From Obama’s biographer David Mendell, a long-term Chicago Tribune political reporter, we have comments on Obama’s thinking he could control the press, and hasn’t liked that when it’s turned out not to be true in the past. Mendell also points out some of the same dichotomies as Wallace-Wells.

March 18, 2008

Obama the new Dukakis after dumping Wright?

Perhaps kind of like calling pork “the other white meat,” Barack Obama as Michael Dukakis redux is Ted Rall’s take on the Illinois senator as potential Democratic presidential nominee.

He makes the comparison after an almost stereotypical take on Hillary Clinton:
Hillary Clinton has figured this out (that Republicans win elections in years when national security is a top concern). Her policy actions — voting for war twice, the Patriot Act, keeping silent about torture and Guantánamo — have been engineered to project Republicanesque hawkishness. She dresses butch and talks like a female prick--i.e., bitch. You don’t like her. She doesn’t want you to. She wants you to think that she's macho enough to deal with Them the next time They pick a fight at three in the morning.

Barack Obama, on the other hand, has already given away a store he doesn’t yet own. He’s the new century's version of Dukakis.

“I would explicitly reach out to disaffected Republicans and remind them of some of their traditions,” Obama told U.S. News & World Report. “Very rarely do you hear me talking about my opponents without giving them some credit for having good intentions and being decent people.”

“I think I can reach out to Republicans and independents more effectively than any other candidate,” he said on “Meet the Press,” citing his “ability to focus on getting the job done, as opposed to getting embroiled in ideological arguments.” No wonder Republican pundits love him! Not only will he be easier to beat in November — if McCain loses, they'll get the same love from President Obama.

Rall then explicitly connects Obama’s March 18 speech on racial issues, with what he sees as Obama throwing Rev. Jeremiah Wright under the bus, as underscoring the Dukakis factor.
First rule of politics: never apologize. It won’t satisfy your critics, and it makes you look weak. If Eliot Spitzer had followed that dictate, he’d still be governor of New York.

First rule of presidential politics: fight for those near and dear to you. Michael Dukakis lost points when he was asked what he'd do if his wife got raped. (Correct answer:
”I would kill the rapist.”) If a man won’t stand up for his own wife — or his own pastor — how can we trust him to fight the terrorists?

That said, Rall notes that Wright is right about many things, including his accusing the U.S. of importing drugs, exporting guns and training murderers, per the lament of a Wall Street Journal editorial.

As always, Rall is thought-provoking.

I disagree that he threw Wright under the bus. I also disagree with Rall’s unspoken contention that Obama didn’t need to distance himself more.

That said, Obama could have shown himself to be a true progressive by specifically affirming his solidarity with the statements Rall noted that wingers in the Journal deplored.

Olympic opening ceremony boycott idea could grow

French Foreign Minister Bernard Koucher suggests a boycott of the Olympic opening ceremony may be in order if China continues its crackdown in Tibet.

BOOM!

This is one of those ideas that makes total sense.

The opening ceremony is quasi-political. The only thing that theoretically relates to the Olympic Games themselves is the lighting of the torch, and even that can have political overtones.

An opening ceremony boycott would in no way politicize the events themselves.

Gore misses boat on call for ‘green India’ by ignoring growth rate

Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore spoke in New Dehli with co-Nobel Peace Prize winner Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and an Indian himself recently, and said India could be a major “green” country with 21st century technology.

However, he missed one HUGE roadblock to that.

And, that would be the semi-official Indian governmental policy of surpassing China in population.

India’s population growth rate of 1.6 percent per year, a birthrate of 22.69 per 1,000 and an average age of just under 25,per the CIA Factbook. and worse than, for comparison, Iran and Indonesia, and as bad as Egypt, are guaranteed to make a “green” India pretty difficult.

We have got to have U.S. leaders who will honestly talk population control with more developing nations.

Ozone not a pollutant either?

President Bush personally intervened to keep the Environmental Protection Agency, which had planned on tightening its ozone standards far below 80 ppm, from going any tighter than 75 ppm. Question is, can he even legally do that?
EPA officials initially tried to set a lower seasonal limit on ozone to protect wildlife, parks and farmland, as required under the law. While their proposal was less restrictive than what the EPA’s scientific advisers had proposed, Bush overruled EPA officials and on Tuesday ordered the agency to increase the limit, according to the documents.

“It is unprecedented and an unlawful act of political interference for the president personally to override a decision that the Clean Air Act leaves exclusively to EPA’s expert scientific judgment,” said John Walke, clean-air director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The lawsuits are coming, and Earthjustice, assuming it’s the legal counsel, will get a check from me. And, they’ve got one good, if hostile witness already available:
Solicitor General Paul D. Clement warned administration officials late Tuesday night that the rules contradicted the EPA's past submissions to the Supreme Court, according to sources familiar with the conversation. As a consequence, administration lawyers hustled to craft new legal justifications for the weakened standard. …

Lisa Heinzerling, a Georgetown University law professor who specializes in the Clean Air Act, said Dudley's letter to the EPA represents “a misunderstanding of the statute, a misunderstanding of Supreme Court precedent and a misunderstanding of the science as the expert agency understands it.”

Bring on the lawsuits; I’m ready. And, let’s name people like Stephen Johnson, and even the president himself, as personal defendants, too. They’ll be out of office and ready to be sued by then.

Update: For more on what a sneaky “therefore” can show, read this NRDC blog post.

Four times, the EPA fought the White House on lessening new ozone standards. When it lost for the last time, the “therefore” was somebody’s way of making clear who made the call.

Iraq more pricey than Nam – ask McCain about cost

Only World War II has now cost m ore than Iraq.
The costs of maintaining a US presence in Iraq now runs a tab of about $435 million a day — $3 billion a week, or $12 billion a month. The US has siphoned some $500 billion taxpayer dollars into Iraq, for a war that was supposed to be “sharp” and brief. Interest payments add another $615 billion, and the price tag of repairing a depleted military is projected at $280 billion.

Only World War II, in terms of inflation-adjusted dollars, was more expensive, according to a recent study by Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard University public finance Professor Laura Bilmes. Both served in the Clinton administration.


Here’s another financial analysis.of the expensive war:
The price tag in Iraq now is more than double the cost of the Korean War and a third more expensive than the Vietnam War, which lasted 12 years. Stiglitz and Bilmes calculate that it will be at least 10 times as costly as the 1991 Gulf War and twice the cost of World War I.

Only World War II was more expensive. That four-year war — in which 16 million U.S. troops were deployed on two fronts, fighting against Germany and Japan — cost about $5 trillion in inflation-adjusted dollars.

Of course, LBJ’s “guns and butter,” along with the rise in inflation it provoked, was part of what chased him out of office.

So, if Schmuck Talk Express™ is so serious about staying there 100 years, if necessary, when is the MSM press going to ask him what he would do differently than President Bush on paying for the war.

This is yet another one of those areas where Schmuck Talk has gotten a free pass from the media.

Jon Markman offers up more financial idiocy

After berating the Federal Reserve for “enabling” irresponsible investment bankers, he says the Fed and Big Ben Bernanke should have “gotten ahead of the curve” on rate cuts, by marking them down not 0.75 percent, not 1 percent, but a whole 1.25 percent.

That would certainly worsen the inflation he rightly decries. And, it wouldn’t do much more for greedy Wall Street bankers than the actual three-quarters point cut of today did do.

I agree that the Fed’s Board of Governors has been largely “outwitted and outplayed,” or, better yet, dimwitted and outplayed, but this would be to just play the Street’s game by its rules, only more so.
The Fed’s leaders, a dangerous mix of university professors and career bureaucrats, were drawn into a trap at amazing speed by dark forces in the global financing system that they now admit they scarcely understood.

So why does Markman think the Fed would do better with a larger rate cut?

Markman is usually pretty good in his financial comments, but sometimes he hits a huge clunker, such as predicting last May that the Dow would hit 21,000 in four years.

Today’s column may not be quite as stupid, but it’s up there.

Oil prices hit Delta hard

The financially struggling airline is grounding planes as its response to oil prices hitting $110/bbl. It’s also offering voluntary severances to more than 30,000 of its employees, or the majority of its workforce.

I am guessing that this also may have ramifications for on-again, off-again merger talks with Northwest. The main hangup there is pilot seniority; certainly, if enough pilots take a severance offer, that would be open to new discussion. Delta, as the larger airline, said it won’t go ahead with talks unless a seniority deal is in place.

The No. 3 airline is joined in the plane groundings by No. 4 United (mistakenly identified as No. 2 in the linked story). United is grounding older 737s. Delta expects to ground about 5 percent of its fleet capacity and United about 4 percent

Southwest, which flies nothing but 737s, has so far indicated is it going to try to hang on and wait for an even later generation of aircraft rather than replace its oldest 737-300s. However, the United and Delta moves could get it to reconsider, especially if Southwest also spun this as a PR move to address recent questions about Southwest’s airplane inspections and maintenance.

Olympic boycott of a sort under discussion

French Foreign Minister Bernard Koucher suggests a boycott of the Olympic opening ceremony may be in order if China continues its crackdown in Tibet.

BOOM!

This is one of those ideas that makes total sense.

The opening ceremony is quasi-political. The only thing that theoretically relates to the Olympic Games themselves is the lighting of the torch, and even that can have political overtones.

An opening ceremony boycott would in no way politicize the events themselves.

JPMorgan takeover of Bear Stearns detailed – a bailout for THIS?

As of Saturday evening, Morgan was still willing to pay about $15 a share for Bear. But Morgan’s investment bankers weren’t sure how to value Bear’s holdings, Morgan officials started batting about the idea of a Federal Reserve guarantee.

The deal was finally closed a little after 7 p.m. Eastern time Sunday, less than an hour before Asian markets were due for Monday opening.

Meanwhile, a bunch of other financial players on the Street were deliberately talking Bear down for their own selfish reasons:
People forget that Wall Street is a fragile machine. Cash, or “liquidity,” as it is known in the trade, is the oxygen that keeps investment banks alive. No matter how healthy you are, you can’t breathe if someone puts a pillow over your head. That’s what Bear Stearns’s clients and rivals did, and they did it without remorse.

As Andrew Ross Sorkin points out, what is Bear going to do? Say no? It’s doubtful Morgan will raise its offer or that the Fed will support anybody else making an offer.

So, instead, we have the Federal Reserve not only involved with a Wall Street bailout, but also with Wall Street financial politics and inter-firm politics and schadenfreude.

Wonderful. I know that this isn’t in Ben Bernanke’s job description.

Diabetes not two diseases but three at least

Traditional Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are both multi-genic on the “nature” side of their cause. Well, now, scientists are finding several varieties of single-gene diabetes. And, we’re learning more about the traditional two types as well:
That brings us to the 16 genes discovered so far to play a role in Type 2 diabetes, and at least 14 in Type 1.

Surprisingly, the Type 2 genes don't affect how the body uses insulin, thought to be the trigger. Instead, they alter how the pancreas makes insulin in the first place, explains Dr. David Altshuler of Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

What this means? More targeted medications, and possibly more targeted dietetic suggestions, too.

The latest Southwest Airlines folly put on ice

In the wake of ongoing questions about safety issues, Southwest announced it was shelving plans to outsource aircraft maintenance to El Salvador. Somehow, I doubt a lot of fliers would trust that Salvadorean inspectors are as well-trained as U.S. ones. And, in a recession, the idea of outsourcing well-paying jobs is a political no-go anyway.

The icing may be permanent. Former American Airlines CEO Robert Crandall is backing Congressional regulation to require such inspections be done domestically.

Boy, how tone-deaf can Southwest be? When a former American exec makes you look clueless in the PR world, it’s bad.

TCU stands by Jeremiah Wright invite

Texas Christian University’s Brite Divinity School stands behind an already-extended invitation to controversial pastor Jeremiah Wright. Brite decided months ago to honor Rev. Wright, pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. The pastor, whose church is Barack Obama’s home church, has been the focus of political discourse recently for his intemperate comments, which led to Obama making a speech today in part to further distance himself from those comments.

A Brite press release says:
“Contrary to media claims that Wright preaches racial hatred, church leaders who have observed his ministry describe him as a faithful preacher of the gospel who has ministered in a context radically different from that of many middle class Americans.”

Wright was previously the Wells Preacher for Brite’s annual Ministers Week in 2001, and supposedly the best-received minister to have that honor.

Nonetheless, expect local winger Mark Davis, national winger Rush Limbaugh, or other wingers to organize protests at TCU, to call on Obama to denounce TCU, etc.

The problem with Wright is in part what Obama said. He’s still trapped in the ’60s to some degree. No, things aren’t perfect today. But race relations are better. And, we need to look more at socioeconomic issues regardless of racial background.

Who knows? Maybe Wright will seize on this opportunity.

Sadly, though, I won’t be holding my breath on that.

BushCo privatization watch – private toll roads

The attempt to privatize our nation’s highways is drawing increasing opposition from the trucking industry and Republican Congressmen, clear signs that this is a no-go in the long-term.
“They have a myopic view,” said Rep. John L. Mica (Fla.), ranking Republican on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Pricing transportation to drive down traffic may make market sense, but it harms the public, he said. “This was a country based on some system of equality. People are paying their taxes and have representation. You can’t exclude them from having a fair return.”

Department of Transportation officials defend throwing dollars at studying more congestion pricing on toll roads and other things as getting away from “pork-barrel politics.”

Wrong. While old-style transportation politics may be pork-barrel, from Alaska Rep. Don Young’s “bridge to nowhere” to Pennsyvania Rep. John Murtha’s pork wallowing, that doesn’t mean the new system isn’t that, either.

Rather, it’s just a different set of hogs at the trough.

Bernanke finds brains with ‘only’ three-quarter point rate cut

The Federal Reserve and Chairman Ben Bernanke cut the discount rate only three-quarters of a point, instead of the full point, or even more, a greedy Wall Street had been expecting and lusting for.

How greedy and lusting? The Dow shed 100 points within two minutes of the Fed announcement.

Update: The Street then decided that three-quarters a loaf was better than none, doing a 200-point uptick after the 100-point drop.

Hitchens still idiot on Iraq

Christopher Hitchens morphs George Bush in trying to claim he was right on invading Iraq.

Read this howler:
Baghdad's outrageous flouting of the resolutions on compliance (if not necessarily the maintenance of blatant, as opposed to latent, WMD capacity) remains a huge and easily demonstrable breach of international law.

Get that? Even though Saddam Hussein didn’t have “weapons of mass destruction” (which Hitchens knows is itself a misleading term), it had “latent WMD capability.” Funny, Bush and Tony Blair never mentioned that idea to the U.N.

Then there’s this:
The role of Baathist Iraq in forwarding and aiding the merchants of suicide terror actually proves to be deeper and worse, on the latest professional estimate, than most people had ever believed or than the Bush administration had ever suggested.

If he’s talking about the current rash of suicide bombers, he’s just lying.

Next, we have this:
Not unimportantly, a battlefield defeat has been inflicted on al-Qaida and its surrogates.

Really, Gen. David Petraeus Hitchens?

The only thing one can say about Hitchens compared to Bush is that he at least doesn’t mangle the English language when he’s lying.

Paulson says economy in ‘sharp decline’

No word yet on whether Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson will get a BushCo woodshed whipping for uttering the truth about the economy. Paulson didn’t actually use the “recession” word, but he is coming closer. Of course, he’s still in full-blown fluffer mode most of the time:
Paulson also appeared on ABC's “Good Morning America” where he claimed the Bush administration's $152-billion fiscal stimulus program could generate hundreds of thousands of jobs once tax rebate checks begin flowing in May.

Yeah, right. Housing starts dropped another six-tenths of a percent in February and building permit applications fell off 7.8 percent. The economy ain’t adding “hundreds of thousands of jobs” anytime soon.

Obama race speech – did he ‘nail it’?

On style, yes. On substance, sort of.

In his much anticipated speech on race issues, Barack Obama used the old Christian theme of “love the sin, hate the sinner,” to describe his relations to the pastor of his church, Trinity United Church of Christ’s Rev. Jeremiah Wright, calling his language “incendiary,” with a “distorted view of this country,” while acknowledging the man as “family … I (cannot) disown”:
The man I met more than 20 years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor. He is a man who served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who for over 30 years led a church that serves the community by doing God’s work here on Earth — by housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS. …

As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me ... I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. …

Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety – the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger. Like other black churches, Trinity’s services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear. The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America. …

I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely — just as I’m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.

From there, Obama moved to larger racial issues:
Race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now. We would be making the same mistake that Reverend Wright made in his offending sermons about America — to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality.

The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we’ve never really worked through — a part of our union that we have yet to perfect.

From there, he listed specific racial issues that need to come closer to perfection:
Segregated schools were, and are, inferior schools; we still haven’t fixed them, fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education. …

Legalized discrimination … history helps explain the wealth and income gap between black and white, and the concentrated pockets of poverty that persists. …

A lack of economic opportunity among black men, and the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one’s family, contributed to the erosion of black families … (and) helped create a cycle of violence, blight and neglect that continue to haunt us.

This is the reality in which Reverend Wright and other African-Americans of his generation grew up. … And occasionally it finds voice in the church on Sunday morning, in the pulpit and in the pews.

That said, Obama pulled out what is surely both genuine understanding of where many whites stand today and genuine political genius:
(A) similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience. … So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they’re told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren’t always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.

Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze — a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns — this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.

Obama then talked about black responsibility for improvement, in spite of obstacles and challenges.

And, at the end of that, he then went beyond this to throwing a bone to Reaganism, in what borders on pandering:
Ironically, this quintessentially American — and yes, conservative — notion of self-help found frequent expression in Reverend Wright’s sermons.

But, he says Wright didn’t quite get it:
But what my former pastor too often failed to understand is that embarking on a program of self-help also requires a belief that society can change.

The profound mistake of Reverend Wright’s sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It’s that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made.

Obama also leveled his gun at some black politicians, without naming any by name. (That’s OK, we know he’s talking about people like Al Sharpton):
But for all those who scratched and clawed their way to get a piece of the American Dream, there were many who didn’t make it. … For the men and women of Reverend Wright’s generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years. That anger may not get expressed in public, in front of white co-workers or white friends. But it does find voice in the barbershop or around the kitchen table. At times, that anger is exploited by politicians, to gin up votes along racial lines, or to make up for a politician’s own failings.

Obama then concluded with a Reaganesque anecdote:
There is a young, twenty-three year old white woman named Ashley Baia who organized for our campaign in Florence, South Carolina. She had been working to organize a mostly African-American community since the beginning of this campaign, and one day she was at a roundtable discussion where everyone went around telling their story and why they were there.

And Ashley said that when she was nine years old, her mother got cancer. And because she had to miss days of work, she was let go and lost her health care. They had to file for bankruptcy, and that’s when Ashley decided that she had to do something to help her mom.

She knew that food was one of their most expensive costs, and so Ashley convinced her mother that what she really liked and really wanted to eat more than anything else was mustard and relish sandwiches. Because that was the cheapest way to eat.

She did this for a year until her mom got better, and she told everyone at the roundtable that the reason she joined our campaign was so that she could help the millions of other children in the country who want and need to help their parents too.

Now Ashley might have made a different choice. Perhaps somebody told her along the way that the source of her mother’s problems were blacks who were on welfare and too lazy to work, or Hispanics who were coming into the country illegally. But she didn’t. She sought out allies in her fight against injustice.

Anyway, Ashley finishes her story and then goes around the room and asks everyone else why they’re supporting the campaign. They all have different stories and reasons. Many bring up a specific issue. And finally they come to this elderly black man who’s been sitting there quietly the entire time. And Ashley asks him why he’s there. And he does not bring up a specific issue. He does not say health care or the economy. He does not say education or the war. He does not say that he was there because of Barack Obama. He simply says to everyone in the room, “I am here because of Ashley.”

Brilliant ending.

My grade? Politically, an A, even if he left one or two soundbites for Fox to chew on.

As for satisfactorily explaining the Wright relationship? An A-minus.

As far as a substantive explanation and action plan on various issues? A B, to B-minus.

Obama talks about how socioeconomic class issues are rising up alongside of racial ones and even supplanting them in some ways. But, we hear little new about what he’s going to do about that.