December 13, 2008

Rich could get smarter while poor get dumbed down

Two stories this week on intelligence issues stand in jarring opposition.

First is the call by several scientists for healthy people to have the right to give themselves intellectual "steroids."
"I would be the first in line if safe and effective drugs were developed that trumped caffeine," author Michael Gazzaniga of the University of California, Santa Barbara, declared in an e-mail.

Second is the sad finding that children in poverty tend to have reduced brain activity.

Barring a VERY comprehensive national healthcare plan, it's easy to see how the income gap could become an intelligence gap as well.

Also, per the statements of Gazzaniga, et al, whether or not any of the scientists in question have any financial connection, Big PhARMA is behind this.

And, the big drugmakers certainly won't rush out to tell you about Second is the sad finding that children in poverty all the side effects of these drugs.

Let's tackle one - chemical dependency. What if the alleged brain-boost effects of Adderall lessen with more and more usage, whether through physical dependency, psychological dependency, or both? And, what if its non brain-boost effects produce good old-fashioned amphetatmine addiction?

In short, there ARE NO "safe" brain-boosters at this time. As Christpher Waljek notes, we've also never tested any of these drugs for use on healthy people for off-label reasons, other than the self-testing going on right now.

And, he adds this - the drugs of today, the Adderall and Ritalin, boost test performance, not necessarily intelligence. (There's a whole raft of sidebar arguments here, of course, on what "intelligence" is, is "intelligence" as currently defined by most U.S. social psychologists more nature or nurture, is there a thing such as "q," etc.)

Back to his main point, that these are focus enhancers and not intelligence enhancers, anyway:
Do you really want a doctor who passed his boards as a result of taking speed — and continues to depend on that for his practice?

No. No. No.

There, that was easy.

On price and related issues, he weighs in again:
How soon before the penis enlargement industry produces herbal stimulants to profit from everyone's cognitive shortcomings?

Obama ‘misstatement’ apparently exposed – Rahm talked to Blago about Senate seat

And named Obama’s “acceptable names”

Time for more retracted sentences from David Axelrod? Perhaps Obama himself? Why, if you (as I assume) have no taint, can you not give straight answers?

Incoming Obama chief of staff and Illinois Fifth District Congressman Rahm Emanuel talked with John Harris, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s chief of staff about filling Obama’s Senate seat, according to a Chicago Tribune source:
Emanuel delivered a list of candidates who would be "acceptable" to Obama, the source said. On the list were Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett, Illinois Veterans Affairs director Tammy Duckworth, state Comptroller Dan Hynes and U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Chicago, the source said. All are Democrats.

Well, one “misstatement” of Obama and his Essence magazine/Chicago insider mouthpiece, Roland Martin, is now exposed. Jarrett, if not tops among the four, was at least one of four preferred Obama replacements.

Other points to note? Harris, or other Blago reps, started talking with Rahmbo the Saturday before Election Day. Gee, that was right after Jesse Jackson Jr.’s Indian barbecue, wasn’t it?

Was Blago pursuing two separate lines of shakedown at the same time? Surely Rahmbo had heard about the BBQ blowout for JJ Jr., right? Was Obama, through him, trying to head JJ Jr. off at the pass? Is this why “somebody” pressured Blago not to name JJ?

Also interesting that, per Pat Fitzgerald’s original affadavit against Blago (PDF), Blago was told to, in essence, “chill” for two years — by Obama’s “Advisor B,” who may well be Rahm.

And, Obama himself, along with Rahmbo, Ax, etc., still have all those unanswered questions and non-answer "answers" waiting out there,

Man, more drama, and new plot lines, than you can shake a stick at. It’s “interesting” that MSLBs haven’t touched this with a 10-foot pole. (Update - TPM posted a story link, but no blog post about it, at 8:30 Central, finally. WM and Kos, among others, still nothing.)

Good thing Rahm hasn’t resigned his House seat yet. He could find out that his White House gig suddenly isn’t so secure.

Another not-quiter gets in the MLB Hall of Fame

Joe Gordon? Maybe he was a Yankees team leader in the ’40s. Maybe he was a peach of a guy. A Hall of Famer? NO, even though the baseball Veterans Committee officially says otherwise . Yes, he had power for a 2B, but, even credit him for two missed seasons of WWII and he still wouldn’t have broken 1,800 hits. And, he was just slightly above average as fielder, myths about “Flash” Gordon’s glove aside.

So, what Blago cards does Fitz still have to play?

I would have to say I at least partially agree with Carrie Johnson’s analysis of the Blagosphere (that’s my name for it) so far.

Pat Fitzgerald has giving us a sort of Seurat, his pointillist dot-splattering, and invited us to look at it from his angle, and see the picture of soliciting bribes.

But, maybe we’re using the wrong analogy. Maybe Fitz is like one of those 1970s fundamentalist preachers who claimed to hear Satanic “backward masking” in all sorts of rock music, but got his listeners to “hear this” only by reading them aloud what he said they should “expect” to hear when he spun a piece of vintage vinyl backward.

Maybe Fitz has been psychologically priming us, a lot. And trying to get some people to “roll” by doing that.

Or, let’s look at this from another angle.

We know Fitz hasn’t yet produced all the tapes he has.

But does he have a lot more, or is he trying to run a bluff?

Only until we see the full deal will we know what, speaking along the lines of the intelligence world, is “actionable” as far as what Blago has allegedly done.

Also, don’t forget Fitz isn’t perfect.

I’m not saying there was partisanship involved, but, for various reasons, he didn’t go after Karl Rove along with Scooter Libby, right? Was it because he couldn’t roll Rove easily enough?

As dumb as Blago gives the appearance of being, I don’t think he’s easily rollable.

Give this guy an award, not a criminal citation

A Minnesota homeowner caught kids TP-ing his house and shot them - with a squirt gun full of fox urine.

December 12, 2008

Obama camp still has non-answer 'answers' on Blago, Jarrett

I don’t think Obama/staff are guilty of anying criminal, but …

Update, 8 p.m.: Per Josh Marshall at TPM, I went to Roland Martin’s blog about the Jarrett timeline.

Let's put it this way. Josh is seeing, because he’s seeking, exculpation of Obama’s apparent poor judgment or communication skills on the Jarrett part of the issue, and Martin as having high explanatory value here, because Josh wants to see that. Well, I don't think it's there.

And, Josh conveniently fails to note that Martin is ... basically an Obama surrogate, or close to it, himself.

So, move along, nothing new here.

Original post: So far, President-elect Barack Obama, and surrogates David Axelrod, have skilfully evaded answering the Politico’s question list about his background in the Blagojevich pay-to-play scandal.

Basically, Kenneth Vogel and Carrie Brown want to know:
• When Obama and Blago surrogates last spoke, as well as head-to-head contacts;
• Were any of these talks about Obama’s opening-up Senate seat;
• What’s up with “correcting” Axelrod, including why it took so long to do it;
• Did Fitz’s office or the FBI talk to you;
• When did you learn Blago was under investigation;
• Did you or your staff contact Fitz or the FBI if you had any reason to sense this was a pay-for-play push by Blago, especially re point No. 1.

I would add a couple of rhetorical questions of my own to which we may not get the answers, either:
• How much less cohesion is there in your inner circle than was portrayed in the campaign, given the number of statements Axelrod had had, not just to retract on his own account, but has had retracted for him?
• Why didn’t you say “Blago must resign” Tuesday rather than Wednesday?
• Do you have any info on any of the “six candidates”?
• Re Politico’s question No. 1, were any of these contacts before you decided to give Valerie Jarrett a White House job?
• Why is your staff letting Obamiacs censor Blago questions on your website, especially since appropriate questions, not just winger trolling are being removed?

That said, let me offer some tentative answers:
• Obama and Blago staffs talked until mid-November or so;
• Valerie Jarrett was offered the WH job AFTER Blago started pushing for “consideration”;
• In spite of this, nobody at Obama’s office (contrary to the early Rahm Emanuel rumor) contacted Fitz or FBI;
• Obama’s inner circle ISN”T that coherent, but Obama, yes, B.O. himself, ultimately, is determined to still be that tight-lipped with the press, or even the public, or your most loyal minions are.

Result? Contrary to MSLBs decrying the MSM for over-covering this issue, etc. you, President Obama, probably will get yourself a Whitewater-type “cloud” that is, as far as the handling of how things have unwound, that is and will be at least partially your own fault.

And, from Obama's Thursday presser through follow-ups later Thursday evening by the Ax and Rahmbo, we're STILL not getting answers

Obama says he has had no personal contacts with Blago since the election, claims his office was not involved with any deal-making, and that he’s still gathering details on who all from his staff had contacts with Blago’s staff.

Analysis?
• Statement No. 1 is a duh; I don’t think Obama is that dumb, and never have.
• Statement No. 2 says nothing; Blago’s “motherfucker” statement already attests to its veracity.
• Statement No. 3? The real question is, not what Obama knows about staff contacts, but what his “rounding up” means. Some sort of “massaging” will happen, as Obama wants to make sure he has tracked every comment down before making any further statement, so that there are no more forced retractions by Axelrod, etc.

Other than that, Statement No. 3, and the rest of Obama’s presser, did nothing to address the “timeline” questions vis-à-vis Jarrett’s appointment to WH staff, etc., what Obama knew a week or two ago about staff contacts, etc.

Obama may well answer these questions in the future. But, anybody who thinks he said anything new Thursday is guilty of wishful thinking.

Meanwhile, Ax gave a non-answer answer Thursday night to part of the Jarrett timeline question, saying she removed her name from consideration for the Senate seat without knowing anything about Blago’s scheming, BUT ….

Because Obama wanted her to work at the White House.

Still unanswered is why he would (suddenly?) want the person reportedly his favorite choice to replace him in the Senate to suddenly come work at the White House.

Simple, Ax said — Just.Another.Politician.™ wanted her at the Big House, not the Capitol, all along.

And, I’m sure Ax checked in with Obama transition staff before making these statements, so nobody will have to withdraw them for him later today. (Unless the Obama recollection of just where he wanted Jarrett when undergoes further, err, clarification.

And, Rahmbo channeled Sarah Palin using kids as human shields to duck answering questions about whether he’s the “Obama advisor” on one Blago tape.

And, Oops! On Jesse Jackson Jr. friends!

Dunno how much Jesse Jr. knew what his friends were doing, but if they were actually responding to Blago’s $1 million fundraising appeal:
• He needs to fire them and get some new friends;
• WE need to ask just how his friends heard about this and why they actually acted on it!

This also lends new intrigue into who was allegedly pressuring Blago NOT to name Jess Jr. to the seat.

Instead of Obama worrying about a tar baby, it may have been a representative of one of the other candidates.

As for Blago calling Obama a mofo, this isn’t something totally out of the blue; there’s some history behind it. The story underlines my subhead; I do not beleive Obama(land) is guilty of anything criminal.

BUT... the mishandling of talking about this issue grows by the day, mushrooming in the same soil environment in which mushrooms, well, mushroom.

What’s the old political saying?

“It’s the cover-up that gets you.”

Well, before the cover-up can come the appearance of impropriety, or of not shooting straight.

Obamaworld looks like it needs some target practice, at the least.


This just gets better by the day.

As Terrell Owens would say here in Dallas: “Getcha popcorn.”

Is John Sharp about to become a Republican?


Check out all the GOPers, plus T. Boone, who will be with the alleged “Democrat” and former Texas Comptroller John Sharp at a Texas Workforce Commission to-do in January, per a TWC press release:

AUSTIN – Former Texas Comptroller John Sharp will join an impressive group of business and government leaders at the upcoming economic summit, Putting America Back to Work, scheduled for January 15 through 16, 2009 in Austin and hosted by the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC). Sharp will open the second day of the conference as the breakfast keynote speaker.

Top experts will gather to address critical regional and national economic challenges facing our nation today. Sharp will join other leaders in the areas of the economy, energy and manufacturing including:

• Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst
• Texas Commissioner of Agriculture Todd Staples
• BP Capital Chairman T. Boone Pickens
• TWC Chairman Tom Pauken
• Former Texas Secretary of State Phil Wilson, Senior Vice President of Public Affairs, Luminant.

“The United States is at an economic tipping point,” said TWC Chairman Tom Pauken. “Now is the time for serious, long-term thinking on the major economic issues facing America.”

Following a keynote address by T. Boone Pickens, panel discussions will address Lessening Our Dependence on Foreign Energy, The Texas Economic Model, Rebuilding Our Manufacturing Base, and Challenges of Our Business Tax Structure. Texas business, economic development and education leaders are invited to attend this important event to share ideas and develop strategies to move Texas forward during these challenging economic times.


All Republicans, including a possible Senate race opponent and one of the Texs GOP's top nutbars, plus a slick oilman wanting to make money off of his natural gas and water and an exec with Texas' dirtiest electric power generator.

Nice company, John. Why don't you go ahead and make it permanent?

In the real world, no, I doubt El Sharpie is actually changing parties. That said, with company like this, he's running to the right-hand edge of the Democrats, and will almost surely guarantee that he is not nominated.

Sorry, Paul Burka, but with something like this, John Sharp's political struggles are clearly more than just bad timing, though that is problematic enough.

‘Ignatieff loves the smell of barnyard scat in the morning’

Insert Stephen Harper joke here?

Not my statement; it’s from the lede of a story about the new leader of Canada’s Liberals .

Some Liberals, and certainly, Canada’s New Democratic Party, will probably argue that Ignatieff likes that smell 24/7. He’s on record as being lukewarm about a Liberal-NDP-Bloc Quebecois coalition to oust Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

If Harper’s non-gladhanding hand turns out to have a shiv for Ignatieff’s back, I can’t see but that the Liberals will tumble into near-irrelevance in the next Canadian general election, running third nationally.

And, all this intertwines with the next Liberal party caucus in May; not only will Ignatieff have to have worked to stood up to Harper by then, he’ll have to have healed any intraparty wounds over the leadership chase.

Didn't big banks make the equal of gas guzzlers?

And, is not President-elect Obama hiring the equivalent of GM CEO Rick Wagoner in having Larry Summers as his top economic advisor inside the White House and Robert Rubin the top one outside?

That's just a few of the ways I extended the analogy of Michael Hudson in how the proposed auto bailout "is unfairly punitive.

That said, I disagree with Hudson's angle that we ought to be lenient to the auto industry.

Instead, I note that Henry Paulson is dispomaniacally desperate for Round 2 of TARP bailout money, to the degree that he'd probably service Nancy Pelosi on the Speaker's office desk.

So, why is NOBODY amongst House Dems, after perfunctory hand-wringing over the oversight report, talking about getting as tough with the Big Banks as with the Big Three?

And, as Hudson charges, is Obama too much under the influence not only of Summers/Rubin, but also his professorial alma mater, the University of Chicago, home of Milton Friedman and monetarist fiscal policy?

The question is academic until next January and the 111th Congress; an automakers’ bailout this year is as dead as Fred Thompson’s presidential dreams.

Juan Cole speeds up Obama’s Pakistan learning curve

Renowned Middle Eastern scholar Juan Cole says Barack Obama has several things he must know about Pakistan, starting with the fact that there’s arguably no “there” there as far as being able to point to one thing and call it a central government.

Did Jesse Jackson Jr.’s friends raise AT LEAST $1 mil

He might need it for legal fees after further “talks” with Fitzgerald.

Dunno how much Jesse Jr. knew what his friends were doing, but if they were actually responding to Blago’s $1 million fundraising appeal:
• He needs to fire them and get some new friends;
• WE need to ask just how his friends heard about this and why they actually acted on it!

This also lends new intrigue into who was allegedly pressuring Blago NOT to name Jess Jr. to the seat.

Instead of Obama worrying about a tar baby, it may have been a representative of one of the other candidates not wanting to get cut out of line, and trying to flex some muscle.

Auto bailout dead for 2008; who’s to blame?

With the United Auto Workers refusing to accept Senate Republicans’ drastic take-it-or-leave it Hobson’s choice on rapidly cutting union benefit overhead, an automakers’ bailout for 2008 is as dead as a Fred Thompson presidential campaign.

Who’s to blame?

• Well, per the story, one problem is the Big Three have been in business longer in the U.S. than have the Japanese Big Three. They’ve got more pension overhead because they’ve got more retirees per current employees.

There’s no “blame” there, of course, but there is a reminder that we may be comparing apples and oranges at times.

• Beyond that, as I’ve already said about two dozen times, the Big Three, and above all, the General, have plenty of blame to shoulder in different ways.

And, the UAW has its fair share.

Not counting enabling Michigan politicians, I would slice the blame within the industry as roughly 2/3 management and 1/3 unions. Within management, I’d give 2/3 of that blame to General Motors.

Per previous posts under my “automakers’ bailout” tag, I’ve noted that GM ignored early in-house minivan designs and hybrids research back in the ’70s, as prime mismanagement examples; even today, its Allison division is a world leader in making hybrid buses, but it still doesn’t have a full-hybrid car.

I’ve also blogged on how UAW President Douglas Fraser invited the Japanese Big Three here in the late 1970s, but never made an effort to unionize their plants, despite having had advance contacts with the Japanese equivalent of the UAW and despite Honda’s first plant being in Ohio, not the South, for example.

Both management and the UAW have plenty of blame on the “green” side, along with those enabling politicians. (Can somebody park a Suburban on John Dingell’s front lawn?)

Finally, two wrongs don’t make a right.

Rather than using the argument about how Crazy Uncle Henry Paulson’s been so lenient with his investment banking A-list buddies, the argument should be flipped – the incoming Congress has the opportunity to be just as tough with the financial sector as with the Big Three. (I’ll have a post up with more of these thoughts this afternoon.)

On, and especially given that normal assembly plant holiday shutdowns are just around the corner, Krugman (before he tried to qualify his words) is right — GM should die.

December 11, 2008

Terrell State Hospital paging Terrell Owens

Sounds like we're right on track for T.O.'s latest "it's all the quarterback's fault" paranoia-ridden shivving-in-the-back of a signal caller.

So, Cowboys fans, if you see Tony Romo doubled over in pain anytime in the next couple of weeks at Valley Ranch, no, Jessica Simpson didn't knee him in the 'nads, T.O. stabbed him in the back.

Gee, what a shock. And, we haven't seen this coming for a month?

And, Jerry Jones is stuck with him (no chance of a trade) until his contract is done, and a spineless coach who's surely had part of his backbone removed by JJ.

Change we Need needed at USDA

Nicholas Kristof has an excellent column about how the U.S. Department of Agriculture is so in need of reform that we ought to start by calling it the Department of Food.

And, per his column, you can help push for that reform by signing an online petition to President-elect Obama at Food for Democracy.

Here’s what I wrote to personalize my e-signature:
Anything to reign in Big Ag, control CAFO pollution and give us healthier food!

Don’t wait, go sign.

Another Texas Dumbocrat makes himself too visible

Silvestre Reyes says we should keep BushCo torturers and snoopers in office.

I have a better idea. Let's give Reyes a nice vacation from his hard work as House Intell Chair, a nice vacation ... in a small, windowless box in Gitmo.

National Parks can breathe easier

The BushCo Environmental Protection Agency has dropped plans to make it easier to build coal-fired electric power plants near national parks, many of which are already struggling to meet Clean Air Act standards, let alone live up to the letter, let alone the spirit, of the National Park Service's Organic Act.

Libertarian Party turns 37 today

Burn your driver's license and go out driving without one at about 90mph to celebrate.

Friedman – Big Three screwed from lack of vision

As to what WOULD BE a good auto vision for the future, Tom Friedman offers a Better Place - literally.

Imagine not just an electric car, but one that looks for renewable electricity as its preferred recharging source. Imagine being able to order charging miles for your car, under such a system, via your cell phone.

And, imagine GM snubbing such an idea.

But, as Friedman says, it’s all real, and being set up for full roll-out in some places, as we speak.

And, no, you don’t have to imagine the GM snubbing, either. Hence, Friedman’s polemic:
(O)ur bailout of Detroit will be remembered as the equivalent of pouring billions of dollars of taxpayer money into the mail-order-catalogue business on the eve of the birth of eBay. It will be remembered as pouring billions of dollars into the CD music business on the eve of the birth of the iPod and iTunes. It will be remembered as pouring billions of dollars into a book-store chain on the eve of the birth of Amazon.com and the Kindle. It will be remembered as pouring billions of dollars into improving typewriters on the eve of the birth of the PC and the Internet.

Read Friedman’s full column for details.

Chinese exports take biggest drop in a decade

If you wanted further indication we will indeed have a global recession, not just Western-world one, in 2009, this news would seem to confirm that.

So much for China “rescuing” the world economic engine.

One appointment Obama needs to make

A new NASA head to replace the increasingly full-of-himself Michael Griffin.

Mike, first, NASA isn’t yours.

Second, we can’t afford a manned moon shot right now, especially one that’s supposed to be the starting point for a manned trip to Mars.

Seven Blago questions for Obama – and a few add-ons of my own

I don’t think I could have done better myself than the Politico’s question list.

Basically, they and I want to know:
• When Obama and Blago surrogates last spoke, as well as head-to-head contacts;
• Were any of these talks about Obama’s vacating Senate seat;
• What’s up with “correcting” Axelrod, including why it took so long to do it;
• Did Fitz’s office or the FBI talk to you;
• When did you learn Blago was under investigation;
• Did you or your staff contact Fitz or the FBI if you had any reason to sense this was a pay-for-play push by Blago, especially re point No. 1;

I would add a couple of rhetorical questions of my own to which we may not get the answers, either:
• How much less cohesion is there in your inner circle than was portrayed in the campaign, given the number of statements Axelrod had had, not just to retract on his own account, but has had retracted for him?
• Why didn’t you say “Blago must resign” Tuesday rather than Wednesday?
• Do you have any info on any of the “six candidates”?
• Re Politico’s question No. 1, were any of these contacts before you decided to give Valerie Jarrett a White House job?
• Why is your staff letting Obamiacs censor Blago questions on your website, especially since appropriate questions, not just winger trolling are being removed?

That said, let me offer some tentative answers:
• Obama and Blago staffs talked until mid-November or so;
• Valerie Jarrett was offered the WH job AFTER Blago started pushing for “consideration”;
• In spite of this, nobody at Obama’s office (contrary to the early Rahm Emanuel rumor) contacted Fitz or FBI;
• Obama’s inner circle ISN”T that coherent, but Obama, yes, B.O. himself, ultimately, is determined to still be that tight-lipped with the press, or even the public, or your most loyal minions are.

Result? Contrary to MSLBs decrying the MSM for over-covering this issue, etc. you, President Obama, probably will get yourself a Whitewater-type “cloud” that is, as far as the handling of how things have unwound, that is and will be at least partially your own fault.

Update, 1:30 p.m.

Obama says he has had no personal contacts with Blago since the election, claims his office was not involved with any deal-making, and that he’s still gathering details on who all from his staff had contacts with Blago’s staff.

Analysis?
• Statement No. 1 is a duh; I don’t think Obama is that dumb, and never have.
• Statement No. 2 says nothing; Blago’s “motherfucker” statement already attests to its veracity.
• Statement No. 3? The real question is, not what Obama knows about staff contacts, but what his “rounding up” means. Some sort of “massaging” will happen, as Obama wants to make sure he has tracked every comment down before making any further statement, so that there are no more forced retractions by David Axelrod, etc.

Other than that, Statement No. 3, and the rest of Obama’s presser, did nothing to address the “timeline” questions vis-à-vis Jarrett’s appointment to WH staff, etc., what Obama knew a week or two ago about staff contacts, etc.

Obama may well answer these questions in the future. But, anybody who thinks he said anything new today is guilty of wishful thinking.

Chu may be Obama’s first inspired Cabinet choice

As The Guardian notes, one thing Nobelist Steven Chu has going for him is, compared to Al Gore, a recognition of the reality of the difficulty of addressing our energy and climate problems.

Chu, unlike Gore, says it’s a problem of technology, not just will.

And, from running Lawrence Livermore, he can tell us what is realistic within technological advances.

Barney music used to torture at Gitmo

Dude, I would soooo talk if somebody used Barney music to torture me, like BushCo did with Guantanamo detainees. I would go so nuts I’d probably let Shrub and Uncle Fester fondle me or something.

Ditto for having to listen to Britney Spears.

I agree with Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello. Let’s do the same to Bush.

December 10, 2008

Recession going global next year

That's per the World Bank, which says 2009 will have the first global recession since 1982.

Under 40? Getcha popcorn. This is all new to you.

GOOD - Senate GOP stalls auto bailout

The fact that the Senate GOP is blocking the Big Three bailout is actually good news.

The new Congress taking place in early January will have enough Democrats in the Senate a filibuster won't be a problem. Due to the normal plant layoff at the holidays, we're talking just a week or two of plant production time being on the table anyway.

Second, an early January bailout could be delayed two more weeks, to send to President Obama, not President Bush. That means Obama names any "auto czar." It means the $25 mil "green car fund" isn't tapped for a bailout. It also means that ditching Big Three execs might get tied to similar standards to release Round Two of TARP money.

Third, the new Senate likely wouldn't water down the House bill to let the Big Three dodge stricter state-level fuel efficiency standards, etc., i.e., California's plan to regulate CO2.

Sorry, folks.

To me, GM/Chrysler can rot in hell first.

Washington State cracks down on 'left-lane lopers"

Drive slow in the left-hand lane of a freeway in the Evergreen State? It can cost you a cool $124.

Here's the law on the book in Washington:
"It is a traffic infraction to drive continuously in the left lane of a multilane roadway when it impedes the flow of other traffic."

PERIOD. Nobody appointed you left-lane lopers traffic engineers or the state police. So, GET OVER.

J.A. Tosti, creator of Left Lane Drivers of America, has the right idea. He has created a see-through decal for his windshield that says, "REVO EVOM." Seen in a rearview mirror, it reads "MOVE OVER." Eli Dozier has one that says "Slower Traffic," with an arrow pointing to the right lane.

We’re No. 2 in loving global warming!

That ranking, that the U.S. is the second-worse country in addressing global warming, comes from advocacy groups Germanwatch and Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe. The worst?

The House of Saud, down in Riyadh.

Stiglitz – plenty of blame on economic crisis

In one of the clearest bipartisan finger-pointings yet, Joseph Stiglitz tells us five critical decisions, or non-decisions, got us to where we are at today.

Enough of them, between fallout from the first bad decision, and the second bad decision, occurred within the Clinton Administration of Stiglitz’s government service, it’s quite clear now why Obama Larry Summers hasn’t had him involved with financial transition decisions.

Was Emil Jones Jesse Jr playing Obama and Blago against the middle?

It’s a common consensus that Illinois State Senate leader and Obama political godfather Emil Jones Jr. was “Senate Candidate 5” in Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s pay-to-play scheme to fill Obama’s seat and believed worthy of a major shakedown attempt.

What we haven’t heard yet what contact Jones had with EITHER Blago or Obama.

And, by “contact,” I don’t necessarily mean direct contact, but through surrogates, albeit authorized ones. Let’s be clear on that.

I’m also curious who was pressuring Blago NOT to appoint Jones. And, if Blago was trying to lever that, depending on that first question. Hmmm….

Unlike the stereotypical conservative seeing a new Whitewater here, I’m not saying Obama’s got any bad connections. Unlike Obamiacs, though, I’m not giving Just.Another.Politician.™ a pre-emptive blanket whitewash.

There’s plenty to still fall out of this baby, and Pat Fitzgerald probably set a record for number of different ways to say “no comment” yesterday.

Update, 3:10 p.m.: ABC News says Candidate No. Jesse Jackson Jr., not Jones Jr. If true, the acorn sure doesn't fall far from the tree, eh?

Jackson himself didn't deny the connection.

But, that makes the "pressure not to appoint" even more mysterious.

Oh, and I hope Blago does NOT resign soon, so we can have a special election for the empty Senate seat. Chris Cilizza reminds us just how much fun this could be

Attention Camille Paglia – the PUMA bus is officially out of gas

But, for some reason, America’s pseudo-avant garde dominatrix keeps trying to start the engine, including with the latest installment of her semi-infantile and more than semi-delusional paeans to Sarah Palin.

Who knows? Given both Camille Paglia and Sarah Palin, maybe they’re in the midst of a torrid lesbian relationship.

Why free-agent relievers are a mug’s game

H.L. Mencken never mentioned baseball owners as specimens of Homo Americanus whose intelligence can never be overestimated, he should have. How much will the Tribe overpay for Kerry Wood if he passes a physical?

Overpay they will. As the story notes, Joe Borowski had 45 saves in 2007, only to be released midway through 2008. Or, look at Greg Gagne.

What’s the truth on last Obama-Blago contact?

Jake Tapper of ABC noted that Obama campaign guru David Axelrod said Nov. 23 that President-elect Barack Obama and Illinois Gov. (for today) Rod Blagojevich had talked directly about filling Obama’s Senate seat, and had talked AFTER Nov. 4.

Now, Ax says he misspoke, but that’s not enough for Ben Smith.

Maybe Axelrod did misspeak. Or maybe he’s having to cover Obama’s ass.

Given that Axelrod didn’t originally retract his own statement, but an anonymous, no loess, someone else from Obamaland did it for him, I’m inclined to the latter.

Besides, I’m with Ben. Have the two directly talked about anything since Nov. 4??

Or, to make sure the net is spread broadly enough, have the two spoken through intermediaries about anything since Nov. 4?

Remember, he’s Just.Another.Politician.™

December 09, 2008

Borat Clinton can still make glorious oil deals for Kazakhstan

The “deal” with Bill Clinton and his foundation that lets Hillary become Secretary of State has as many loopholes as the word “is” does when coming from the Slickster’s mouth.

There’s no bar on anything he can do, really. All he has to do is check in with his kindly State Department parole officer first, on his foundation. His Global Initiative has some bars, but that’s a difference that makes no difference. The Clinton “presence” is just as available as before.

As for the release of donor lists, there’s nothing to indicate that the donation amounts will be released with them.

Somebody shoot John Sharp before he runs again

Former Texas Comptroller John Sharp has just announced he plans to seek the Democratic nomination to run for Kay Bailey Hutchison’s Senate seat.

John Sharp is a retread loser AND a collaborationist with the Texas GOP in his post-elective career, a collaborationist with Gov. Helmethair, Rick Perry, in particular. Texas Dems need him to run for statewide office like they need another hole in their collective heads.

His collaboration on school property tax overhaul gave Perry cover on an issue where he was hugely vulnerable, and arguably could also be seen as an inside baseball move with some ultimate benefit to his tax consulting company on the business franchise tax changes.

And, as Wayne Slater notes, twas John Hagee that brokered the reconciliation between Sharp and Helmethair. Ugh.

Is Lancaster mayor in Perot family pocket?

It’s hard to find another explanation, unless it involves John Wiley Price

Lancaster, Texas Mayor Marcus Knight appears to continue to be fighting his city’s best interest by stubbornly supporting (along with John Wiley Price) the alleged “need” for Lancaster to join Dallas County and the North Central Texas Council of Governments in an 18-month master plan study for the Dallas Logistics Hub site, which covers Dallas, Lancaster, Wilmer, Hutchins and unincorporated Dallas County.

The 6,000-acre development, proposed by The Allen Group, a major developer of intermodal transportation sites, and partially falling in a proposed federal free trade zone/inland port area, would bring thousands of jobs and millions of tax dollars to the area.

That is, if an 18-month “study,” which appears to be heavily pushed by Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert on behalf of his Perot family buddies.

So, why is Knight so in favor of the study, to the degree that, after a Dec. 8 Lancaster City Council public hearing on the matter got about two dozen comments against the proposed study, and none in favor, is keeping the public hearing “open” until a later date, presumably to get somebody, if anybody, to talk about how good the study is?

I even Googled the name of Knight’s company, “ARC Waste Hauling” + “Perot” and got no hits, thinking there has to be a connection somewhere.

Per the Observer story, we KNOW why JWP is apparently in the Perot’s back pocket. The old political phrases about “it’s all about the money” and “follow the money trail” probably could have a picture of JWP next to them for illustrative purposes.

We know that, in other cases, such as a bridge in Hutchins related to Union Pacific’s intermodal hub, JWP doesn’t like it if other political leaders won’t play ball with him, whether it’s hiring the right subcontractors, stroking him the right way or whatever.

Maybe that’s it with Knight. John Wiley Price has co-opted him in some way and gotten him to play ball, where Hutchins Mayor Artis Johnson never would.

Rather than fling around well-poisoning “carpetbagger” epithets, JWP needs to give a more convincing explanation of why he’s shooting his own constituents in the foot.

And, to avoid further speculation about his motives, Marcus Knight probably needs to do the same.

You know it’s a recession, Dallas-Fort Worth version

November pre-owned home sales were off 33 percent from a year ago. And price dropped 7 percent.

The sales percentage decline is the largest recorded in this area; read the full story for more details.

With continued softness in the new-home market, and the recession lessening the flow of business relocations, I’d expect residential real-estate softness for 7-9 months or so. And, if Big D is in that much recessionary struggle, no, this probably won’t be a mild one.

You know it’s a recession, NFL version

When the golden-egg-laying goose, the No Fun League, cuts 10 percent of its staff, we’re in a real recession. The Commish, Roger Goodell, said NFL corporate sponsor money is taking a slowdown. And, although this year’s season tix sales at stadiums are great, he’s afraid 2009 will be different.

Bonded debt for federal government makes great sense

Michael Lind makes a good argument for a reform Obama needs to push — giving the federal government to do bond-based, long-term structural improvement programs, like states do with things such as highways — rather than a pay-go system.

Lind notes that Chris Dodd and others are pushing a national investment bank to be the funding agency for such bonds.

This does seem indeed like a “good government” no brainer.

Side benefit? It would investors seeking a relatively safe investment harbor a new port.

Why you should avoid back surgery after an MRI

If a decision for back surgery based on an MRI or similar scan, it’s probably finding a “problem” that’s actually quite normal.

About 25 percent of people who get back scans have herniated discs. And, as many as 60 percent of healthy adults with no back pain, based on evidence so far, have degenerative spinal changes.

And, while the issue of “lying MRIs” is most closely related to back pain, there’s plenty a knee operation guided by an MRI that didn’t treat the actual cause of knee pain.

Why?

Doctors, clinics and patients alike all are lustful for technology. And accept it too uncritically.

Is NBC that desperate?

To pay Jay Leno $30 mil a year dfor a prime-time derivative of the Tonight Show?

I stopped watching him years ago.

The man, for a comedian, has an incredibly inept sense of timing. His monologue jokes have no rhythm, no space, no room to breathe.

Letterman's better, but bought too much into the New York City cynicism for a while.

Pounding sand down the subprime rathole

Half of home mortgage refis still default

Given that, despite some neolib economic types on Keynesian steroids, half of mortgages refinanced earlier this year defaulted within six months, should be be more careful with whom we make eligible for loan modification programs?

Many shady loans were taken out by would-be flippers, or "investment income" buyers.

Guess what, folks? You bought a $500K or $5Mil stock portfolio, only yours is a physical property covering 4K square feet. Deal with it.

At the same time, are there people who either didn't have the money, or else didn't have the fiscal discipline or acumen, to be buying a house in the first place?

Republicans did go overboard with their Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac bashing, and the attacks on the Community Reinvestment Act had no connection to reality.

That said, they were right that a lot of loans were pushed on people who shouldn't have had them in the first place.

In all of the above cases, two blank checks don't make a right.

Sue Exxon for global-warming weather? Hell, yes

A British physicist claims we are getting to the point where we can determine specific human causes that worsen specific weather events.

Here is Myles Allen's words:
"We are starting to get to the point that when an adverse weather event occurs we can quantify how much more likely it was made by human activity. And people adversely affected by climate change today are in a position to document and quantify their losses. This is going to be hugely important."

Hello, Earthjustice. Can you file a lawsuit on behalf of Alaskan Inuit against Big Oil and Big Coal? Stat?

Tuesday's auto bailout details scrutinzed

It looks like a mixed bag of good, bad and ugly in the evolving auto bailout deal.

The government would get a stock stake. Is 20 percent minimum too off-putting to existing investors? Well, as far as individual investors, Kirk Kerkorian could have either done a successful putsch against GM CEO Rick Wagoner or else started selling his GM holdings again.

An auto czar? All sorts of devils in the details. Is he a Bush guy or an Obama one? What sort of powers? How realistic of powers?

Bush Administration trustworthiness factor. He still wants something even tougher, but still slaps the financial sector on the back of the hand and we still don't even have a TARP czar.

A bonus? As the bill now stands, the Big Three would forfeit rights to challenge further special clean air acts by California.

If Congressional Dems had any nuts (and we know they don't) they'd insist that a fiscal-sector bailout czar be named, too. If not?

If GM literally can't hold out five and a half weeks until Jan. 20, then per Paul Krugman's original, now-retracted, comments, it's going to sink no matter what.

December 08, 2008

Bush OK with evolution

The Preznit, after eight years of giving off vibes that he's a young-earth creationist type, and having actually said in the past that schools need "teach the alleged and nonexistent controversy" about evolution, now says...

He thinks evolution, theistically guided is real. His YEC religious right friends ain't gonna like this one!

Auto bailout deal an exercise in fantasyland?

From where I sit, the latest outlines of a proposed auto bailout deal aren't closely tracking reality.

First, this idea that an "auto czar" would withdraw bailout money if the Big Three aren't far enough into restructuring by Feb. 15? Ain't gonna happen.

Second, a BushCo appointee writing the restructuring deal terms? Sorry, but if B.O. can't be enough of a second president to demand his person gets this job, or at least, make a swift change Jan. 20 if needed, I'm leery.

And, who's going to "certify" the Big Three's long-term viability, and do so with credibility, especially when Krugman has "anti-certified" their viability?

How Moody’s contributed to the subprime crunch

When you have a better operating margin than ExxonMobil and your CEO is trying to improve it, you’re probably going to be a soft touch for creative new financing vehicles.
Even though the standards at many lenders declined precipitously during the boom, rating agencies did not take that into account. The agencies maintained that it was not their responsibility to assess the quality of each and every mortgage loan tossed into a pool.

Then what the hell were you rating? Or why were you in this business?

The full story, which focuses on Moody’s in the last decade, probably could apply to Fitch’s and S&P about as well.

Taliban has three-quarters of Afghanistan

Now that the Taliban appears in control of most of Afghanistan outside the Kabul area, to the degree it now can
attack and destroy Western supply convoys, somebody want to tell the President-elect that 20,000 new troops there just works out to 20,000 more sitting ducks?

‘The basic male tool kit is under threat’

No, Lorena Bobbitt is NOT out on parole.

Instead, we have the strongest scientific confirmation yet of the gender-bending properties, not just for fish and amphibians, but also for Homo sapiens, of common pesticides, herbicides, plastics softeners and other chemicals.

The list of “gender-benders” includes include phthalates, used in food wrapping, cosmetics and baby powders among other applications; flame retardants in furniture and electrical goods; PCBs, a now banned group of substances still widespread in food and the environment; and many pesticides.

Here’s the nut grafs of the report:
“Males of species from each of the main classes of vertebrate animals (including bony fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals) have been affected by chemicals in the environment.

“Feminisation of the males of numerous vertebrate species is now a widespread occurrence. All vertebrates have similar sex hormone receptors, which have been conserved in evolution. Therefore, observations in one species may serve to highlight pollution issues of concern for other vertebrates, including humans.”

In other mammalian species, undescended testicles, reduced-size penises, reduced sperm count, and even hermaphrodism in polar bears with Y chromosomes have all been detected.

Will the world’s industrial nations listen? The United Kingdom is already digging in its heels against regulatory action within the EU.

Xmas shop until you drop – and mall forecloses

And, you thought that bursting real estate bubble was limited to just subprime home loans?

Think again.

And, think again that this isn’t a Texas problem. Texas is listed as one of the top four at-risk states.

Defaults on mall mortgage payments could double or triple by the end of 2009. A number of hotels around the country could be in trouble, too.
“We’re probably in the first inning of the commercial mortgage problem,” said Scott Tross, a real estate lawyer with Herrick Feinstein in New Jersey.

As the story notes, that then means less in local property tax revenue, among other fallout.

And, as with home loans, who knows where the mortgages are actually at today. So, you could have malls being shut down, but with nobody to repo them, nobody to possibly buy notes and re-open the tenant stores, etc.

And, the bankruptcy of mini-mall/strip mall tenants like Circuit City and Linens ’n Things certainly doesn’t help matters.

So who made fake phone call to Pakistan’s president?

The latest in post-Mumbai recriminations and fallout is the question of who made a fake phone call Nov. 28, allegedly by Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari saying India would attack Pakistan if it didn’t round up Lashkar-e-Taiba and other militant groups?

The Hindu claims Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence did the fakery.

The Guardian reports that Pakistan says the call came from a number inside Mukherjee’s office.

Maybe it did and his office has been infiltrated. If THAT’s the case, New Delhi has to be scared shitless.

I am interested indeed to find out more about this.

Meanwhile, John McCain, unable to bomb Iran now, told Zardari that New Delhi was ready to bomb his country.

YES, boot Rick Wagoner from GM

The simple fact that GM doesn’t “get it” about what Congress expects in the way of restructuring says to me some members of GM’s board of directors could probably stand the old heave-ho, while we’re at it.

Meanwhile, Kirk Kerkorian, longtime major investor in, and critic of, GM, is piling on. And, contra one possibility listed in the story, GM does NOT need an insider as Wagoner’s replacement. Nor Jack Welch.

Carlos Ghosn? Hmm — could that lead to a Nissan takeover? GM could do a hell of a lot worse than that idea.

And, the Journal agrees with an earlier blog post of mine, as it notes Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi clearly caved to President Bush in agreeing to use the $25 bil fuel efficiency fund as general bailout money.

Tribune Co. to fold?

The Tribune Company, parent of the Chicago Tribune and many other daily papers, etc., is reportedly looking at Chapter 11 protection.

When Sam Zell first put the Chicago Cubs on the sale block, I said he was an idiot and selling the wrong part of what he bought.

December 07, 2008

No takers for Miami Herald?

McClatchy has the Herald on the block, but nobody’s buying, reportedly.

Why would they? South Florida real estate will be in the tank — commercial reali estate, mind you, and not just homes — for another five years, I would guess. That means five years of crappy real estate add.

Meanwhile, McC has $2 bil of buyout debt from taking over Knight-Ridder just two short years ago. God, it sucks to be in this business.

I mean, community newspaper chains aren’t as bad off, certainly, but folks whose newspaper companies are based on big dailies?

Our Economics Laureate says, in essence, the gov

Our Economics Laureate says, in essence, the government it too chickenshit to let them collapse.

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Dealership deals could doom Big Three ‘slimdown’

You may have already read a little bit about how state laws offer a high degree of protectionism to local auto dealers against manufacturers. Well, today’s Washington Post has a good in-depth explainer of the problem, starting with examples from here in DFW and Texas statewide.

Did you know dealers of the same brand here in Texas must be at least 15 miles apart? It’s that type of maze of legislation, on a state-by-state basis, through which GM in particular must wade.

And solutions will probably have dollar signs attached. For example, GM reportedly paid Oldsmobile dealers $1 billion to go away.

Geo-engineering not the answer to climate change

Even though former climate change skeptics, such as some American big businesses, want it to be the answer, geo-engineering our atmosphere is not the proper solution to climate change, even though it may well provide some relief.

First, it represents the typical American desire to find a quick fix for a not-so-quickly-caused problem, what I call “salvific technologism,” and should be viewed skeptically for that reason alone.

Second, note again people who are backing this idea. Former “skeptics” who may still be denialists-lite on climate change. If they’re still soft-pedaling the degree of the problem, they’re going to short-change the degree of solution offered.

Third, by analogy from bio-engineering, geo-engineering is likely to have all sorts of unexpected consequences. Any frequent hiker of deserts of the western United States is familiar with saltcedar (tamarisk), and with why saltcedar was imported here. That’s but the most glaring example of how are less-than-omnipotent vision has backfired on us in the past. It’s also why genetic engineering is not to be cavalierly trusted.

Fourth, let’s take a look at some of the “solutions” being offered.

Sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere? It works; particulate pollutants of various sorts have kept today’s level of global warming from being even worse. But, note that it’s called “particulate pollutants.” Note also there’s not guarantee it can’t “fall down” to lower levels of the atmosphere, where it would cause … acid rain. Scratch Crutzen’s idea; being a Nobel laureate, even in a closely related subject of award, is no guarantee of genius.

Sowing the oceans with iron dust? Sure, the plankton would grow, die and — presumably — sink. But, for how long would the extra carbon stay trapped? Our oceans are starting to have problems with increased acidification as we speak.

Creating massive mechanical shields and sending them aloft? The cost, not just in dollars, but carbon expended to create, erect and maintain them wasn’t mentioned.

Finally, don’t forget that many former denialists in the Big Biz world are probably seeking some PR-friendly greenwash, too.

With all of these, the American hunger for a “painless” technological quick fix is indeed priceless.

Global warming news burnout?

Even as French President Nicholas Sarkozy tries to sway Eastern Europe to buy into a new European Union climate accord, it seems the news media is saying global warming is “yesterday’s news.”

It may just be a “softening” of a bubble fueled by last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winners and other things, and also overwhelmed by economic news.

Dissecting Obama’s ‘new New Deal”

First, per Politico, what’s up with the massive school infrastructure?
The president-elect also said for the first time that he will “launch the most sweeping effort to modernize and upgrade school buildings that this country has ever seen.”

Not that it’s a bad idea, but this could result in levels of governmental entanglement.

Will Obama throw around blanket money, or will it come with various strings attached, such as design standards? Teacher-student ratios? How much will local school boards and superintendents lose power?

Other stuff, I like. But, there’s devils in the details.

Who’s going to pay for expanding broadband Internet to rural America?

Will electronic medical records be mandated as part of Obama’s healthcare plan? It should be, as part of striking while the iron’s hot, but will it be?

Energy efficiency? Will Obama mandate LEED or other standards for green building on federal pass—through dollars, for schools or many other things?

Second, per the New York Times, will the GOP consider this to be:
In part a government-directed industrial policy, with lawmakers and administration officials picking winners and losers among private projects and raining large amounts of taxpayer money on them

And therefore worth of Senate filibustering?

Will Obama even try to bolster the Department of Commerce into an equivalent of Japan’s famous Ministry of International Trade and Industry? Japan could be seen as the poster child for neoliberal government industrial policy, even though MITI is, and was, nowhere all it is, or was, cracked up to be.

UAW ‘cut its own throat’ 20 years ago

Union management stupidity with Japanese plants equals Big Three management stupidity

Jonathan Cutler asks an elementary question — why didn’t the United Auto Workers unionize the Japanese auto plants built here in the U.S.?

The normal response is one of two things — people say it’s because the U.S. plants are all in right-to-work states or because Japanese carmakers are strongly anti-union.

To which Cutler replies:
• Japanese plants in Japan are unionized, under the Japanese Automobile Workers Confederation;
• Honda’s first U.S. plant was the one it still has at Marysville, Ohio;
• The UAW had plenty of contacts with the Japanese union;
• UAW President Douglas Fraser invited the Japanese to come build here.

Read the full story, then scratch your head at the stupidity of the UAW.