January 17, 2009

Obama says he will keep BlackBerry – here’s how, perhaps

Despite questions about how the BlackBerry can comply, given Research in Motion’s security level, with the 1978 Presidential Records Act, President-elect Obama says he will keep the device.

Having just gotten done reading James Bamford’s “Shadow Factory,” where he described how RIM reached a “work-around” with the Indian equivalent of the National Security Agency, here’s a tentative prediction.

Somebody – perhaps Narus or Verint of warrantless wiretapping assistance fame – will put a Top-Secret level splitter inside the device.

Yahoo not quite dead yet

The old Internet portal isn’t dead yet, isn’t lazy, and can still learn a new trick or two, in this case, mashing up Yahoo News results with the popularity of Twitter comment themes to try to boost news stories faster than Google’s vaunted algorithm does.

Atheists' inaugural oath suit gets slapped silly

Ignorance of Constitution, logic, legal reasoning, empirical evidence all on file

U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton has blocked an atheists’ attempt to force Barack Obama to not say, and Chief Justice John Roberts to ask him to not say, “So help me God” at the end of the inaugural oath. Among other tings, Walton complained about the atheists’ lateness on the suit, not allowing it to be litigated before the inauguration.

In other words, reading between the lines, he kind of hinted that this is a publicity suit, IMO.

For background on the suit by Freedom from Religion Foundation and famous, or infamous, atheist Michael Newdow, go here.

Besides lateness, Newdow and the FFRF have a stunning level of cluelessness about the Constitution whose First Amendment they profess to revere.

As I noted on my initial post on this matter, they’re suing ONLY Roberts, not Obama. That, despite the clear fact that "so help me God," as well as the person administering the oath of office, are both a choice of the new president.

Given that the "so help me God" is not Constitutionally prescribed, it's a matter of individual choice. Therefore, if Obama wants to say "so help me Allah," "so help me Buddha," or "so help me Flying Spaghetti Monster," he has that right. And, the Newdow/FFRF suit could be seen as violating HIS civil rights.

Beyond that, nothing requires the Chief Justice, or ANY Supreme Court justice, to administer the oath of office. I issued a generic challenge for Westley, and others to show me where in the constitution it says that, in my original post; all Westley has done so far is to sputter that I was claiming he never made that claim, when he did, in not so many words, in comments to that post.

Empirical evidence to the contrary? Calvin Coolidge was sworn in by a justice of the peace after Harding's death. LBJ was sworn in by a federal district judge after JFK's assassination.

So, as I also told Westley, the idea that Roberts is causing an “establishment of religion” by adding the phrase for Obama to then repeat falls short on other legal grounds, because he’s not there in an official capacity. Indeed, the Constitution doesn’t require ANY judge to administer the oath. In fact, it doesn’t require any other person at all, the way I read it; I believe Obama could set all sorts of precedent and simply read the oath at noon Jan. 20. The claim comes off like scholastic monks arguing about angels on the head of a pin.

I'm am atheist myself who can point out that other atheists are in fact ignorant of the constitution. And, the ignorance is not about the presidential oath; it's about the First Amendment issue involved.

And it turns out, we haven’t touched all of the ignorance of Newdow, the FFRF, and likely, peole like atheist Internet troll Brian Westley.

Newsweek points out they have a whole crockload of other things wrong in their suit, starting with the fact that they’re suing the wrong branch of government over the wrong oath.

(Update, Oct. 23, 2015. Having now run into Westley on Patheos, on the generally very good Godless in Dixie blog, I'll point out that per Wikipedia's page on Newdow, its section on this suit, I stand by everything I've written.)

The Congressional oath of office DOES have “so help me God” embedded, but, no suit’s being filed there.

Newsweek notes that most of us, including yours truly, may have been passing on an old, old urban legend about Washington adding the phrase, too. (Per USA Today, Chet Arthur in 1881 is the first president documented to have added the phrase.) Newsweek adds that FDR is the first president documented to have an invocation.

But, losing the suit hasn’t stopped Newdow, et al, from continuing to sound like idiots, or “village idiot atheists,” starting with the claim that, as a black person, Obama should be especially sensitive to religious majoritarianism. I haven’t heard the race card played so bluntly since … Bobby Rush in Chicago a month ago!

I noted early in this thread that this is at bottom line a publicity similar suits in 2001 and 2005, both also filed at the last minute, make that clear. And, it’s publicity that good atheism doesn’t need.

Frankly, I think Newdow is as much a gloryhound as American Athiests' Dave Silverman.

Do banks need nationalization?

First, it’s becoming clearer all the time that outgoing Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson opposed the idea on principle and wasn’t just tacking with the political winds three months ago.

It’s also becoming clearer that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke believes that if nationalization is what’s needed, it’s what’s needed.

Question: How much of that do we already have?
“What we have is a weird, shadow nationalization,” said Karen Shaw Petrou, managing partner at Federal Financial Analytics, a consulting firm in Washington. “The government does not want to and should not want to own banks. But if they get forced into that situation, they should resolve that situation. Here, what you have is a huge diversified financial services industry with recognized losses and looming losses in every aspect of its operations. There’s nothing straightforward about it.”

Although the NYT doesn’t mention his name, it’s clear Treasury Secretary-designee Tim Geithner will be Johnny-on-the-spot, should he be confirmed. Given his ties to Paulson, lets’ hope that not just Charles Grassley, but a lot of senators, ask Geithner bailout-nationalization question (while not ignoring back taxes questions, either).

And, that the questions be specific, and into all the different diversified aspects.

If you’re not paying American taxes, you shouldn’t get a tax-paid bailout

However, many companies are.

GM, AIG Bank of America, Citigroup and Morgan Stanley are among bailout aid recipients with offshore tax havens.

Ridiculous. This is why Congress should tell Obama what to do with his veto threat and actuively get involved with Round 2 of TARP.

David Sirota takes Obama to the Wall Street woodshed

Calling Obama’s threat, even before becoming president, to veto any Congressional attempt to restrict the second $350 billion of TARP bailout funds a “nuclear warhead … particularly big,” Sirota definitely doesn’t like it:
Amid paeans to “new politics,” we’re watching old-school paybacks from a politician who raised more Wall Street dough than any other – a president-to-be whose inauguration festivities are being underwritten by the very bankers who are benefiting from the bailout largesse. Safely distanced from electoral pressure, Obama has appointed conservative economists to top White House positions; floated a tax cut for banks; and is now trying to preserve corporate welfare that almost exclusively benefits the political donor class.

Sirota goes on, quoting the New York Times saying “the Treasury says there is no urgent need” for the additional money, to wonder just how in thrall to Wall Street Obama is.

Read the full column to see just how pissed off Sirota is.

Meanwhile, let’s look at a few reasons Congress should get some gonads:
• Bank of America, Citigroup and Morgan Stanley are among bailout aid recipients with offshore tax havens;
• If banks really need to be nationalized (contra the Treasury claim), it absolutely shouldn’t happen without Congressional involvement.

January 16, 2009

Baseball and steroids heat up

Brian McNamee spent 5, yes, 5 hours today in front of the Roger Clemens federal grand jury.

Meanwhile, yesterday Drug Enforcement Administration agents raided the BALCO-affiliated lab of Peter Arnold, creator of flaxseed oil The Clear.

Obama says he will ban waterboarding

An directive to that effect could also close CIA “black sites.” (The story doesn’t explicitly call it an “executive order,” but I assume that’s what it would be.)

Props where props are due. With the fringe benefit. Unclear if this would do anything to touch CIA renditions.

And, even if Obama naively, or for worse reasons, won’t “look backward” with a special prosecutor, this executive order could maybe be evidentiary in civil suits.

Both liberals and conservatives need behavioral economics lessons

David Brooks doesn’t actually use the phrase “behavioral economics,” but it’s clear that’s what he’s talking about when he says both conservatives and liberals currently hold fast to rationalistic, mechanistic versions of macroeconomics.

And, you know something? He’s right.

Blind faith in the “invisible hand” of Adam Smith and conservatives has been shattered – and not for the first time. But, as Brooks notes, Keynesian economics is pretty mechanistic itself, with faith in government stimuluses and debt-based pump priming believed to be tools to also get “rational actors” acting rationally again.

Well, behavioral economics points out that we aren’t normally rational actors. Or even close to it.

Of course, truly progressive thinkers have long known that.

And, as for yours truly, I’ve pointed out in the past that Smith’s “invisible hand” is grounded in his Enlightenment Deism, refuted by world wars, the Holocaust, nuclear weaponry, etc.

Get the lead out? South Korean doctors can

Physicians there have trumped chemical chelatio;n of blood with a new magnetic system for removing heavy metals from a person’s blood.

Israel IS using phosphorus shells in Gaza

Despite Israeli denials, there’s plenty of proof, including on video, at the link.

Obama continues neolib ‘evolution’

Talking to Washington Post editors, he pledged to reform Social Security and Medicare, while backing away from any urgency to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, saying there are possibly other ways to better achieve its goals.

Let me see – EFCA is about union organizing, regardless of economic conditions. It IS the best way to achieve its goal.

So, is B.O. clueless about unions, or just being disingenuous.

As for Social Security and Medicare reform, at some point, he’s either going to have to put up or shut on offering specific ideas.

Ted Rall bitch-slaps Oprah

Rall’s latest column is even better than a lot of his political stuff.

The bitch-slapping of Oprah is for the crapola she touts on her Book Club.

And, the bitch-slapping is not only for her, but for the crapola.

Besides shooting fish in a barrel (that’s you, James Frey), Rall takes on a more highly touted name or two (that’s you, Cormac McCarthy), and a review source or two (that’s you, The New York Times Book Review):
Like many of Oprah's picks, and like many of the titles promoted such influential mainstream venues as The New York Times Book Review, (McCarthy’s “The Road”) is a book written in the form of a good book – spare prose, brooding tone, and who doesn't love a good post-whatever societal meltdown tale? – that is not actually good.

If you go to the column and read an excerpt, you can’t but agree with Rall. And, if you’re a discerning reader, you might agree with this, too:
Readers who rely on popular hype to choose books often come away disappointed. A few may decide to deep deeper, but most won't. Burned readers become non-readers.

Indeed.

Royce West getting favored treatment from Dallas PD?

Mike Walton, president of the Dallas Fraternal Order of Police, thinks state Sen. Royce West is getting a bit too much additional police protection just for some office building copper theft.

Several other Dallas police officers of various ranks deny the claim that the patrols are excessive to the type of crime.

January 15, 2009

Hutchison creates money lead on Perry

The Dallas Morning News reports that Kay Bailey Hutchison has opened up a $1 million fundraising lead over Gov. Rick Perry for the 2010 GOP gubernatorial nomination battle.

Of course, that’s counting the transfer of almost all her accumulated Senate campaign cash.

So, let’s call the money battle a draw so far. And start the contest from today.

Salazar vows to continue drilling for oil

Well, Interior Secretary-designee Ken Salazar didn’t outrightly promise that during the first stage of his conrfirmation hearings, with the Senate Committee on Energy and National Resources.

But, when given the chance to promise NOT to drill in sensitive areas in the west, like his home state Colorado’s Roan Plateau, he took a clearly schwaffeling pass at making such a statement.

And, let us not forget that this is a man who, in private life, threatened to sue U.S. Fish and Wildlife if it gave Endangered Species Act listing to the black-tailed prairie dog.

Big Bill Richardson troubles mount

Looks like the New Mexico Gov was hiding from Obama vetters even more stuff than first revealed.

Now, Frank Foy, the former chief investment officer at the state’s Education Retirement Board, claims he was pressured by Big Bill staffers to make investments in Vanderbilt Capital, investments which ultimately tanked to the tune of millions of dollars.

Oh, Vanderbilt gave Big Bill $15K in campaign donations.

Foy also alleges he was demoted for resisting and that he eventually had some trumped-up sexual harassment charges preferred; he was convicted on three counts.

That said, while the FBI has not yet talked to Foy, the Securities and Exchange Commission has.

Hmmm, maybe Richardson could replace Tim Geithner as Obama’s Treasury designee?

Drop your FISA hopes for Obama, Josh Marshall

MSLBer Jsh Marshall, host of Talking Points Memo, links to this Congressional Quarterly article as hope that Obama will get the telco immunity he voted for in last year’s FISA bill. Fat chance, as the ACLU notes on page 2 of the story. Josh, you’re grasping at straws.

Meanwhile, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, whether simply making its best honest ruling by its lights or else trying to inject itself into civil suits, is expected to release a public ruling that warrantless snooping on Americans is OK.

Obama has no excuse now not to prosecute BushCo war crimes

But he won’t, anyway

President-elect Barack Obama’s Attorney General-designee, Eric Holder told Congress today that waterboarding is torture and that we prosecuted it in the past as a war crime.

Military commissions overseer Susan J. Crawford said we tortured Mohammad Qahtani in other ways.

We’re a signatory to, conventions against torture that are now, per the Constitution that Barack Obama will swear to preserve and protect next Tuesday, the “law of the land.”

So, no excuses. Other than being Just.Another.Politician.™

I’m not going to repost the petition to get Obama to appoint a special prosecutor. It’s clear that he won’t do it. It’s clear he can’t be shamed into doing it. It’s clear that he wants to keep at least some of the expanded presidential power that Bush arrogated to himself.

Therefore, it’s clear he will NOT prosecute, or even look into prosecuting, former executive branch individuals in this area.

Anchorage Daily News continues to blow Palin coverage

And, no wonder, because Editor Pat Dougherty continues to be the chief obstructionist to real news coverage.

Now, people who still have legitimate questions about the birth of Trig Palin, let alone Tripp, are “obsessive-compulsives.”

And, in an irony alert indeed, here’s another comment of his:
I should note, however, that many people who commented on adn.com have alleged a coverup. Many of those were deleted as soon as we saw them, but many were not.

Ahh, nice to see that the openness of the Internet hasn’t yet reached Anchorage newspaper offices. And, deleting comments like that fuels the fires of skepticism about your paper.

Elsewhere, we’re “conspiracy nuts.”

Or, we Elsewhere, we’re “make up pseudo-facts.”

And, while Media Matters is often good, commentary like this illustrates why I talk about Mainstream Liberal Blogs, or MSLBs. Also, Eric Boehlert ignores that Sully is still talking about the issue.

New Mexico could get new national monument

While some part of me is excited about the would-be monument west of Las Cruces in the Robledo Mountains, another part of me has several issues.

First, is it going to remain a BLM-run national monument? Well, that’s not necessarily for the best.

Will it be a National Park Service national monument? That’s not for the best until NPS gets a major budget boost — and a permanent one, not a temporary one for the Park Service centennial.

The Army lied about Pat Tillman …

So, why wouldn’t it lie about the overall friendly fire death rate in Iraq and Afghanistan?
The Army's official stats for the current Iraq war suggest that fewer soldiers were killed by fratricide over the past six years than the total number of service members killed by fratricide during Operation Desert StormStorm.

That’s why people like Andrew Bacevich are skeptical, very skeptical.

Read the full story for more.

The deal is, parents, spouses and other family of those killed by friendly fire are usually accepting of the accidents of war. The cover-ups, when they get exposed, are another matter entirely. And, THAT’s more corrosive of morale than war fratricides, no matter what the Army thinks.

U.S. military says Mexico could implode

The U.S. Joint Forces Command says Mexico is one of two countries that “bear consideration for a rapid and sudden collapse.”

The other one? Pakistan, which should be of no surprise; our intelligence apparatus downgrades the control that Pakistan’s central government has on a daily basis.

Back to Mexico, though, and a more detailed take from the military:
“The Mexican possibility may seem less likely, but the government, its politicians, police and judicial infrastructure are all under sustained assault and press by criminal gangs and drug cartels. How that internal conflict turns out over the next several years will have a major impact on the stability of the Mexican state. Any descent by Mexico into chaos would demand an American response based on the serious implications for homeland security alone.”

Don’t expect Mexican President Felipe Calderon to share anything like this assessment.

Miliband distances British from Bush

British Foreign Minister David Miliband says use of the phrase “war on terror” was a mistake.

Miliband expandes on his original comments.

Neither George Bush nor Dick Cheney, on their last-gasp self-congratulatory, “we did no wrong” interviews, is listening, though. That said, I hope Barack Obama IS listening, lest he continue to mouth that same phrase.

As Obama continues to elevate bin Laden to Moby-Dick status., it seems likely he’s not listening.

Lind – stimulus or ‘biggest appropriations bill’?

Michael Lind wants Obama and Congress to keep focus and goals as they discuss an economic stimulus program:
The purpose of the stimulus – getting money into the economy, fast – is lost, if it turns into the world's biggest ordinary appropriations bill, with something to placate every lobby and sect inside the Beltway.

Good thought. Read the full essay, written with Phil Angelides.

Stimulus package highlights.

Note to Obama – Geithner more than ‘embarrassment’

Try “scofflaw” or “idiot” or “arrogant”

President-elect Barack Obama whistled past the graveyard Wednesday evening, claiming Treasury Secretary-designee Tmothy Geithner’s failure to pay FICA taxes from his time with the International Monetary Fund was an “embarrassment” for him that shouldn’t bar the Senate from confirming him.

But, the Wall Street Journal, which broke the story of Geithner’s tax problems, now has more to share. It says the IMF told Geithner he was responsible for his own FICA taxes:
Geithner … was repeatedly advised in writing by the International Monetary Fund that he would be responsible for any Social Security and Medicare taxes he owed on income he earned at the IMF between 2001 and 2004.

And not just Geithner. Answering a question I had in posts Tuesday and Wednesday, the IMF reportedly regularly did that with all such employees.

And, yet more on that from the Journal:
U.S. IMF employees regularly requested "safeguard adjustments," to see if the IMF paid them enough to cover their taxes. An IMF finance-department official, J. Carter Magill, not only checked the tax-allowance payments, but would double-check tax returns to see if U.S. citizens had filled out their tax returns correctly. Mr. Magill, who is now retired, said he doesn't think Mr. Geithner used his service.

In other words, Geither is coming off looking more and more like one of the three things listed in my subhead.

Forbes, meanwhile, adds a bit to the story on Geithner’s nanny problem. It appears he illegally employed her about three and a half months.

But that’s minor. After pointing out that the IRS, to whom Geithner had to pay those back taxes, is part of the Treasury Department, Forbes adds this:
According to the Senate committee's report, Geithner "recently filed amended tax returns" for each tax year from 2001 through 2006. However, the report doesn't specify when these returns were filed, leaving open the question about how long Geithner knew about the improprieties before he fixed them.

In short, Obama would do the country a lot of good by not only withdrawing Geithner’s name, but by sending up a new nominee with no connections to Robert Rubin or Larry Summers.

And is Geithner really like a bank “too big to fail?” A bit of hagiography?

And now, Geithner is really in trouble. MoJo Dowd is piling on.
Geithner’s transgressions may seem petty … but Obama has proselytized about a shiny new kind of politics, and it’s déjà vu all over again with the smart being dumb, the rich being greedy, the powerful being sketchy.

Of course, Dowd has to go and ruin the column by then going on one of her interminable Hillary Clinton rants.

Note to Geithner — beware the harridan!

January 14, 2009

James T. Kirk can rest easy

Khan Noonien Singh, aka Ricardo Montalban, Mr. Rourke, is dead at 88.

Beyond those and other TV and movie roles, there’s one other bit of work he did for which I remember him – radio voiceovers for New Mexico state monuments.

But, per Marc Bernardin at Entertainment Weekly, I will always remember him as Khan.

Personal stimulus project - hire an editor

More than a decade of newspaper journalism experience, skilled in Photoshop, desktop publishing, writing and editing. Basic HTML knowledge, and FTP server usage knowledge.

Per newspaper lingo,this will run TFN. Resume available upon request.

Groupthink rooted inside human brain

The typical human, when his or her opinion on an issue, take on a person, etc. finds itself to be too far outside his or her social group’s norm, has a response similar to a “prediction error” signal, with differences in nucleus accubens activity related to difference in level of conforming behavior.

More for Geithner to worry about than bad taxes

Try NY Fed incompetence

His oversight of Citigroup, as New York Federal Reserve head, pretty much was a pile of crap. And, given the Geither-Robert Rubin degree of connectedness, this is surprising?

The story notes that the New York Fed, in a key period, relaxed oversight as Citigroup went on a risky spree, and that the NY Fed’s regulatory group reported directly to Geithner. It adds that, even as Citigroup’s risky practices started falling apart last year, the Fed brought no public enforcement case, even though examiners privately sent a critical letter to the company in the first half of 2008.

Citigroup even expanded, more than doubled, its subprime mortgage offerings in 2006, even as many other lenders cut back.

Read the full story for how Geithner not only could have known better, but DID know better, and still didn’t DO better.

Plus, if you’ll go to the last page of the article, you’ll see clear indications about how he was misreading the depth of the looming crisis as late as the middle of last year.

Do we really want him as Secretary of the Treasury?

There is something to puppy eyes after all

Your loyal doggie’s look at you induced oxycontin production.

Only dogs were tested, but I hugely doubt cats produce the same effect.

Boone Pickens has hand out for handout

T. Boone Pickens, acting like a typical billionaire American businessman, wants Congressional stimulus money to fund converting diesel trucks to natural gas.

Total hog-troughing? A cool $28 bil, at $75K per semi.

Hey, Boone? Go to Carl Pope and the Sierra Club. Pope’s already got his head buried up your ass on this issue anyway.

Obama – perpetuum mobile?

The permanent campaign of Obama, internally dubbed Obama 2.0 and developed in part by David Plouffe, will be reality in a way that Bill Clinton or Howard Dean could only have wet dreams about.

And, no, if I’m a Democratic Congressman, I wouldn’t want too much of this focused on me.

An anti-love drug?

Actually, if such a vaccine can be developed, it would be more of an anti-lust drug, let’s be honest.

But, this is America, where the two are often confused.

Romm, McKibben, Whitehead push ‘green’ stimulus

With one notable caveat and one big WHY

First, let me get to the WHY, because it’s near the top of the article the three wrote on Salon.

McKibben says:
I think we should at least keep in mind the possibility that we won't really get out of this economic crisis -- that far from being a cyclical downturn, it may be a signal of something more remarkable: the confluence of forces, like peak oil, finally starting to bring our growth era to an end. If so, it makes sense to push at least a little investment in the direction of infrastructure that would support a different kind of economy than the one we've spent the last hundred years building.

Indeed, what if?

Romm has a laundry list of green stimulus specifics he suggests.

And Whitehead has the caveat:
Basic Keynesian macroeconomic theory states that deficit spending can be used to help an economy recover from a downturn. We've been applying deficit spending for the past eight years or so and we are staring at an ugly recession. Deficit spending did not prevent the recession, so it may be that further deficit spending is not the answer.

So, in different ways, both McKibben and Whitehead are saying we need to think NEW, not just think big, on fiscal actions.

Read the full article; it’s got some good insights.

More Geithner-Obama thoughts

Updated at bottom

OK, after blogging yesterday about Treasury Secretary-designee Tim Geithner and his allegedly tax and nanny problems, I realized I have yet more questions than those I raised yesterday.

Per the Senate Finance Committee (PDF), although audited by the IRS in 2006 over the back taxes for his time working for the International Monetary Fund, Geithner didn’t pony up the amount of back taxes he owed until Dec. 5 of last year, after Obama nominated him.

And, this leads to other questions.
• Did Obama’s campaign think it could just “get away with this”?
• If Obama and his staff thought Geithner was worth it, did they not have a better plan for how to handle this?
• Did Obama’s team ask Geithner why he hadn’t yet paid the back taxes he owed?

And, as I asked before:
• Who first spotted this?
• Did somebody find out Geithner hadn’t paid the back taxes, or did he volunteer the info?
• Does this have any reflection on the vetting of Bill Richardson, especially in light of my new questions?

And a couple more new questions:
• Did Obama’s campaign think it could just “get away with this”?
• If Obama and his staff thought Geithner was worth it, did they not have a better plan for how to handle this?
• Did Obama’s team ask Geithner why he hadn’t yet paid the back taxes he owed?

And, as I asked before:
• Who first spotted this?
• Did somebody find out Geithner hadn’t paid the back taxes, or did he volunteer the info?
• Does this have any reflection on the vetting of Bill Richardson, especially in light of my new questions?

Update: I am perhaps being a bit hard on Geithner. Geithner paid the two years of back taxes the IRS discovered at the time it came across them. The Obama vetting team discovered he had owed for two more years, that the IRS could not pursued due to statute of limitations, and he voluntarily paid this, he told Congress.

BUT - according to the NYT, he paid another $7K for unrelated tax penalties.

Obama falls prey to the Village – Broder suck-up ahead

Last night, President-elect Barack Obama dined with a bunch of mainlined conservative pundits. (More at Huffington Post. ) Tonight, he’s supposed to do the same with “liberal” ones.

It’s clear, as Marc Ambinder says at the first link, that B.O. is wanting to snuggle up to mainstream opinion-makers inside Washington, D.C.’s political Village.

Hmm, I might have to Photoshop a picture of Obama burying his head up David Broder’s ass.

And, listening to Krauthammer for hours at the conservative confab? Doorknob, wouldn’t that be like a new version of waterboarding? Bill Kristol would not be much better. At least you could talk baseball with Will.

Note to Obama – Geithner more than ‘embarrassment’

Try “scofflaw” or “idiot” or “arrogant”

President-elect Barack Obama whistled past the graveyard Wednesday evening, claiming Treasury Secretary-designee Tmothy Geithner’s failure to pay FICA taxes from his time with the International Monetary Fund was an “embarrassment” for him that shouldn’t bar the Senate from confirming him.

But, the Wall Street Journal, which broke the story of Geithner’s tax problems, now has more to share. It says the IMF told Geithner he was responsible for his own FICA taxes:
Geithner … was repeatedly advised in writing by the International Monetary Fund that he would be responsible for any Social Security and Medicare taxes he owed on income he earned at the IMF between 2001 and 2004.

And not just Geithner. Answering a question I had in posts Tuesday and Wednesday, the IMF reportedly regularly did that with all such employees.

And, yet more on that from the Journal:
U.S. IMF employees regularly requested "safeguard adjustments," to see if the IMF paid them enough to cover their taxes. An IMF finance-department official, J. Carter Magill, not only checked the tax-allowance payments, but would double-check tax returns to see if U.S. citizens had filled out their tax returns correctly. Mr. Magill, who is now retired, said he doesn't think Mr. Geithner used his service.

In other words, Geither is coming off looking more and more like one of the three things listed in my subhead.

Forbes, meanwhile, adds a bit to the story on Geithner’s nanny problem. It appears he illegally employed her about three and a half months.

But that’s minor. After pointing out that the IRS, to whom Geithner had to pay those back taxes, is part of the Treasury Department, Forbes adds this:
According to the Senate committee's report, Geithner "recently filed amended tax returns" for each tax year from 2001 through 2006. However, the report doesn't specify when these returns were filed, leaving open the question about how long Geithner knew about the improprieties before he fixed them.

In short, Obama would do the country a lot of good by not only withdrawing Geithner’s name, but by sending up a new nominee with no connections to Robert Rubin or Larry Summers.

January 13, 2009

Obama once favored gay marriage

The Politico refers us to a 1996 questionnaire response to Outlines, a Chicago gay and lesbian newspaper.

Point No. 6?

“I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.”

Think Rick Warren will ask him about that just before giving the inauguration invocation?

Windy City Times, which took over Outlines, has more in its current issue (PDF).
(T) hat article was never challenged or corrected by Obama.

No, but he’s backtracked from his positions since then.

That said, I can accept Obama being Just.Another.Politician.™, but wish he could be a bit more honest about it, and that the Obamiacs would start putting down their Kool-Aid glasses.

Geithner thinks he’s above financial and immigration law?

Wundebar, but not surprising. President-elect Barack Obama’s Treasury Secretary-designee, Timothy Geithner, allegedly failed to pay FICA taxes for himself for several years. That said, tis true, we have new information that could keep the teapot boiling.

That said, per the Senate Finance Committee (PDF), although audited by the IRS in 2006 over the back taxes for his time working for the International Monetary Fund, Geithner didn’t pony up the amount of back taxes he owed until Dec. 5 of last year, after Obama nominated him.

And, this leads to other questions.

No, Geithner is not a tax lawyer, but did nobody inform him that he would be considered self-employed at IMF? Considering the WSJ claims this isn’t the first such case, isn’t there some responsibility somewhere.

Second, re Obama’s vetting process. Who first spotted this? Did somebody find out Geithner hadn’t paid the back taxes, or did he volunteer the info? Does this have any reflection on the vetting of Bill Richardson?

The immigration issue may or may not be a bit more serious, even though the woman was a legal resident. Not serious from Geithner's part as much as ... how do you let your papers lapse? And, given the update on Geithner's tax info, how much do we trust what he's saying about the nanny?

‘Clean coal’ back in Austin

And, trying to wine and dine the Texas Legislature.

Phil King wants to waive franchise fees for integrated gasification combined cycle power plants that capture and store 60 percent of their carbon dioxide.

The story has details on what Luminant or whomever would have to do to qualify for the waiver.

That said, Phil, I have two points for you.

1. No such IGCC plant exists at this time.
2. No way do I support your franchise fee waiver except in a broader context, likely including partial electric industry re-regulation.

The Sage Grouse mourns Arne Naess

“Sage Grouse” is an alternative moniker suggested for me in a blog-posting exchange on High Country News, a nature-and-environment pun on “Socratic Gadfly.

Anyway, Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess, the creator of the idea of “deep ecology,” is is dead at 96.

Needed – a justice recovery package

Color ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero very skeptical of what President-elect Barack Obama intends to do with Guantanamo detainees if/when he closes the facility itself.
“Just like we need specifics on an economic recovery package,” Mr. Romero said, “we need specifics on a ‘justice recovery package.’ ”

And, Romero should indeed be skeptical.

As Glenn Greenwald notes, Obama needs pressure, and still has a tendency to be vague about specifics on issues unless and until pushed.

Do railroads have a bright new intermodal future?

Over at Washington Monthly magazine, Phillip Longman says they do, but it’s going to take a lot of money.

That said, he seems a bit behind the curve, in several ways.

First, a fair amount of his reportage is confined to the East Coast. Doesn’t cover stuff coming from China, then intermodaled on trains out of Long Beach of L.A. Or the growing possibility of being intermodaled, rather than trucked, across the border from Mexico.

As I told Steve Benen in comment to his Washington Monthly blog post touting this, a lot of cargo already IS delivered a fair amount of its destination (after it hits a US port from China) by freight rail.

That's why a major California developer has pushed for south Dallas/Dallas County (where I live) to be designated an official inland port, with his plans for a massive transportation hub development, and why similar pushes are on in places like Kansas City.

Has Longman never seen a 500-car UPac train rolling across the desert from Long Beach to Dallas or wherever?

This sounds like the most uninformed Washington Monthly article since the idiotic auto bailout article you ran a month ago.

It’s also “interesting” that, no, Longman DOESN’T seem aware of what I mentioned.

Nor does Longman mention management issues at lines like the aforementioned Union Pacific which won’t even invest minimal amounts of money in line improvements, additional locomotives, etc.

The only way to do what he wants, IMO, is to do what he opposes — nationalize railroads.

Anyway, read the article for yourself and see if Longman is up to snuff.

Was $150 a barrel oil speculators or Peak Oil?

As the oil price run-up continued throughout the first half of 2008, I conceded that probably about $20/bbl of oil at its peak price was speculation, but that much of the run-up was in fact a reflection of Peak Oil, with global instability, war premiums, etc. becoming more pricey with tighter supply as well.

Last Sunday, 60 Minutes pushed hard on the opposite angle.

I’m still skeptical that speculators had that much to do with it; nonetheless, my skepticism was lessened by the degree to which commodities traders opposed more regulation late last summer, and by how rapidly prices fell once the credit crunch hit.

On 60 Minutes, Dan Gilligan, president of the Petroleum Marketers of America said Morgan Stanley, not ExxonMobil, was America’s largest oil company.

That said, if commodities traders and hedge funds are partially responsible, it’s yet another mistake for which we can “thank” Obama’s ecoonomic Swengali, Larry Summers, and yet another boo-boo for which he has not apologized.
And, we need actual regulation, not regulation talk, from the new Congress.

Who’s an American Indian?

High Country News has an excellent in-depth story on the issue of “blood quantum,” how it defines American Indian status, and more.

Oh, if you believe all American Indians get a bunch of high-dollar freebies, etc., you haven’t been to Montana’s Fort Peck Indian Reservation. Read the full story.

If you believe “greed” is only a white man’s issue, read how tribes will play with the blood quantum, or otherwise boot people off tribal enrollment, when gambling money comes down the pike. Read the full story, especially page 4.

If you don’t understand how blood and lineage also tie in with off-reservation Indians, dying-out languages and more, Read the full story, especially page 5.

And, yes, even Indians have “you’re a Cherokee” jokes, based on tribes that appear to them to have thin lineages.

January 12, 2009

Baseball HOF voters go 1-2 at plate

The Baseball Hall of Fame Class of 2009 is official. Rickey Henderson? No-brainer. Jim Rice? Brainer. As other educated fans wonder, how does Rice suddenly get better from one year to another?

He doesn’t.

He gets sentimental votes. This was the same reason the Veterans Committee was overhauled, after Mazeroski got in. Maybe we ought to add a couple of percentage points to the 75 percent cutoff in a player’s final year of eligibility.

Good news for fans of Bert Blyleven (me) and Andre Dawson is that they both crept higher up the ballot percentages.

Toyota officially unveils the new Prius

Calling it important at the North American International Auto Show, Toyota officially unveiled Prius 3.0 at the Detroit auto show today. As blogged here before, it’s as expected – slightly larger, bigger tires, tighter front suspension, a few more ponies at 134, and yes, 50mpg.

Roger Clemens an official legal ‘target’

Federal prosecutors have convened a grand jury to further their investigation as to whether or not the Rocket perjured himself before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in February/

Also getting government invites to talk are Clemens’ friend-cum-tormentor Brian MacNamee and Mets clubhouse snitch Kirk Radomski.

Sen. 'Joe the Plumber'?

If Joe Wurzelbacher really does run for the Senate seat of the retiring George Voinovich, I don't know whether to applaud for the comedy value or to groan and ask somebody to shoot me that American politics has fallen that low.

Billions for nukes, not one cent for defense

Or, to be precise, per Raw Story, $52 billion a year is what the U.S. spends for nuclear weapons, versus just $700 million, even in the terror-hyped post-9/11 world, for nuclear defense

Can’t Texas Lege get past toll roads/taxes for road/no roads dilemma?

Instead of five months of potential stupidity and gridlock in Austin, followed by 19 months of irritation in the state at large, when, oh when, will the Lege ever look at using long-term bonding?

This IS the 21st century.

Is Israel using phosphorus shells against Gazans?

Human Rights Watch says it’s quite possible but can’t get to Gaza itself, where a doctor claims he’s seeing burn patients with symptoms consistent with phosphorus burns.

Israel’s response?
Military spokeswoman Maj. Avital Leibovich refused to comment directly on whether Israel was using phosphorus, but said the army was "using its munitions in accordance with international law."

Well, Maj. Leibovich can say that because Israel has never signed an international convention — on the books — that bars phosphorus shells for being used on the battlefield for anything other than illumination purposes.

January 11, 2009

With American diplomats like this …

It’s no wonder America’s standing in the world has slipped. State Department staffers nearly crashed their own e-mail system recently.

How? Everybody kept hitting “reply to all” in response to a blank e-mail inadvertently set out to several hundred people on one mailing. Of course, you can guess all the different ways people then responded to THAT, if you’ve ever been in a similar situation.

In essence, it caused a self-inflicted denial of service attack!

Atlantic: A Presidential mistake in the Constitution

In its new issue, the Atlantic Monthly, as part of a larger retrospective on the Bush years and look-ahead to Obama, bemoans the lack of specificity in Article II of the U.S. Constitution for allowing George W. Bush to happen, in the sense of the "unitary executive."

The historical analysis is good. At the constitutional convention, law professor Garrett Epps says that none of the founders wanted to risk Washington's volcanic, even if normally unspoken, temper, to talk about putting more statuatory restrictions on the powers of the presidency. Epps then notes that Alexander Hamilton, the man who pushed for a president-for-life idea, filled the void by essentially acting as Washington's prime minister and developing the idea of the unitary executive.

All well and good so far, and no quibble with Mr. Epps. Epps then notes the number of problems we've had since then, beginning with the deadlocked 1800 election, and the number of times we've amended the Constitution specifically to address executive branch issues.

Still well and good.

Then, his prescriptions fall flat.

Direct popular vote? Wouldn't rein in presidential power.

Force the president to take members of the opposition into his cabinet if there's a mid-term power switch in Congress? How many? What departments? Does the president pick them, or, a la 2007, would Speaker Pelosi pick them? Do you want to clutter the Constitution with that detailed of language?

Meanwhile, Epps misses the boat on not discussing France's hybrid presidential-parliamentary system in light of his proposal.

He misses the boat even more by not even discussing the idea of full parliamentary government in America.

Anyway, give the full story a read; it's great on historical analysis, but you may agree with me it falls short on prescriptive solutions. And, Epps appears ignorant of the rise of the term "presidentialism" to describe the problem at hand.

Needed - a new Bretton Woods

While plenty of other liberal bloggers have picked up on the top half of a great John Judis article, what caught me was the bottom half.

Judis says that addressing the post-Bretton Woods system of currency manipulation, by Japan then China above all, may be a key part of getting out of the current global economic straits.

Well, don't expect Beijing to call such a conference, and it's doubtful Tokyo will.

I'll take Judis' ball a bit further down the road and argue that the European Union could flex some financial muscle by beating Obama to the punch on calling just such an international finance meeting.

Google CEO Schmidt offers ideas to save papers

Gooogle CEO Eric Schmidt says he truly would bemoan the demise of the daily paper, then offers steps to prevent that.

Schmidt said Google is NOT looking at acquistions, investments or other financial help of its own.

To me, one of the most intriguing tools he did mention is going the nonprofit route. Schmidt mentions ProPublica. Britain's Guardian is an example across the pond.

Elsewhere and in response, Dan Froomkin goes Schmidt one better, suggesting Google form some sort of nonprofit umbrella structure. He also suggests that, even if Schmidt doesn't want to bail out for-profit newspapers, it consider investing in a nonprofit group like ProPublica.

That said, the problem is the Internet, not Google. Shouldn't we also be asking Ballmer what Microsoft should do? Or whomever winds up running Yahoo?

Obama again says NO to war-crimes special prosecutor

I and other progressive and left-liberal bloggers have been pushing for this for some time, with petition drives and more, to get a special prosecutor to investigate all potential illegalities in the Iraq War, up through and including war crimes and/or crimes against humanity.

Well, without President-elect Barack Obama himself saying anything, or his transition team talking directly, it's clear the answer is No.

When asked about this issue Friday, Obama's transition team recycled an old Veep-elect Biden non-answer answer from a month ago. (Gee, isn't Obama's campaign/transition team good about those?)
“The questions of whether or not a criminal act has been committed or a very, very, very bad judgment has been engaged in is — is something the Justice Department decides,” Mr. Biden said, adding that he was not ruling prosecution in or out. “Barack Obama and I are — President-elect Obama and I are not sitting thinking about the past. We’re focusing on the future.”

In other words, no special prosecutor. (The NYT notes incoming White House press secretary Robert Gibbs tackled other questions directly.

And further proof that Obama intends to do nothing came out Sunday in his Meet the Pres appearance, further confirmed with yet another weaselly “we’re looking to the future” answer that George Stephanopoulos notes on his blog.

And, while Obama may look to the future, in many other parts of the world, as the Israel-Hamas conflict shows, they don’t.

And "discomfort" doesn't cut the mustard or feed the bulldog.

For people touting John Conyers’ "truth and reconciliation" bill? It has only 10 House sponsors and not a word of support from Pelosi OR B.O. himself; sadly, that ain't going anywhere either.

Why?

1. Too many Democratic hands have their own amount of blood on them.

2. As I expected months ago, and as Uncle Fester also said after the election, Obama isn't necessarily ready to give up all that BushCo accumulation of power. As with Obama’s flip-flop on the FISA amendment bill, Obama wants the power that Shrub and Uncle Fester accumulated. Don’t you dare think otherwise.

Have another glass of Kool-Aid, true believers.

Among other things, a special prosecutor could still work around Bush pardons by pursuing civil suits, against which pardon is no recourse, and which have a lower burden of proof in court.

And, folks like Obama and Holder, or somebody in Obama’s list of DOJ appointees, know that’s an option too.

The mask continues to slip...

If the Wall Street Journal likes Cass Sunstein ...

Perhaps real progressives should be wary of Obama tapping him to be administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. On its editorial page, the Journal calls him "a regulator with promise."

It then claims: "Sunstein, a professor at Harvard Law School, is no conservative -- far from it." Well, if by that, the Journalistas mean he's a wide-eyed 1960s radical, far from it. He's somewhere in the amorphous bounds of Democratic Party-neoliberalism and nothing else.

And, although the Journal wants to see him do battle with Carol Browner, my fear is that before that, he'll be doing tag-team work with Larry Summers.

Fake Green huckstering for bucks at Harvard

Harvard professor Alex Wi$$ner-Gro$$ has himself a nice racket going. First, the Times (London) interviews him on the amount of CO2 Web-surfing in general, and Google searches in particular, can generate. In the process, he gets to fluff himself over research to this end that he is submitting to the US Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers for publication.

But, that’s not all!

Wi$$ner-Gro$$ was just one of several people interviewed for the first article. The Times then gives him a solo gig to describe how people can reduce their online carbon output, both through their surfing practices, and through improving blogs or other websites they have.

But wait, THAT’s not all.

Here’s the nuts of it all.

Both the stories above link to a Wi$$ner-Gro$$ website which will reportedly “green up” your website, while throwing in tech support, etc.

But, Wi$$ner-Gro$$ ain’t doing this out of the goodness of his heart.

The most basic plan he offers is $5 a month.

The most expensive? A cool 100 simoleons.

We now know how much Wi$$ner-Gro$$ is devoted to greening up the Internet, or greening up his bank account with Federal Reserve Notes, at least.

What, does Harvard’s $50K a year or whatever tuition not pay you a big enough salary?

Meanwhile, Google has denied the Wi$$ner-Gro$$ claims.

Stop 'libel tourism'

Even the Wall Street Journal editorial page gets one right once in a while, and this is just such a case.

The WSJ notes and laments the rise of libel tourism, that is, foreigners seeking a favorable venue to sue American authors. Given the relative commonality of law and tradition, its own level of literacy, and the lack of any real American-style libel law, the UK in general and London in particular has become that destination for folks like Saudi sheiks portrayed unflatteringly in American-produced books and magazines. Due to Internet-based book sales, etc., these folks are claiming they can sue in London.

Well, New York State has passed a law trying to render the practice nugatory, but the WSJ says it's not a perfect solution. Read the editorial for its suggestions.

CNN fails to put job-loss figure in historic context

While bad, it isn’t necessarily all that bad

Updated, June 5, 2009, at bottom.

Yes, it is true that, in terms of raw numbers, the U.S. economy lost the most jobs since 1945.

But as a percentage decline, it’s nowhere near as bad, considering the population of 305 million today is almost double that of 1945.

In fact, per CNN’s own graph, the 2008 losses aren’t as bad as 1982, as percentage of total population; it’s 8.5 percent for last year vs. 9.5 percent in 1982.

If you're not over 40, you may not remember the "double-dip" 1980-82 recession. But can we hold off saying this is the worst crisis since the Depression?

Now, it is true, as Kevin Phillips has so well noted, that unemployment calculation methodology has been, to be blunt, "fudged" since 1982. That said, some of the fudging had been done before then, as Phillips has also written.

And, as Phillips also has noted, fudging numbers has been a bipartisan affair, with Democrats back to JFK "trimming" on unemployment and the GOP "trimming" on inflation.

That said, as I note, there's a full percentage point difference between 2008 job losses and 1982. Even with allowance for fudging, I don't think you can say problems now are significantly worse than they were then.

I’ve said it before: Sometimes, whistling past the graveyard is nothing but false optimism. But at other times, becoming too afraid of the “graveyard” is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

And, at least for now, I think the MSM is too much in “self-fulfilling prophecy” mode.

Update: Per some comments at Washington Monthly, especially as one would-be apparent doom-and-gloomer keeps trying to shoot me down on 1982 being worse, it turns out he's digging himself an ever-deeper hole, and is obviously under the age of 40, if not under the age of 35.

First, per information from Jim Glass, about which I wasn’t sure and hadn’t checked, CNN, et al, doubly blew it, as has WM poster "Joe Friday."

Turns out 1983 was a worse year for job losses, by percentage of workforce, than both last year AND 1982.

Yes, the "augmented unemployment rate," of part-timers, discouraged and semi-discouraged, plus traditional unemployment, may be at 13.5 percent.

But, unemployment numbers, with or without fudging, weren't broken out in such detail in 1945. It also obscures the point that jobs lost is a straightforward non-fudgeable stat that was worse by a full percentage point, in terms of population percentage, in 1982 than today, and was twice as bad in 1945 than today.

Joe Friday at WM still couldn't accept that. He said that, if I looked at civilian employment-population ratio, noting it was lower in the late 1990s at least than in 2008, last year would turn out looking worse than 1982 after all.

That said, I found data back to 1970 at Brad DeLong's site going back to 1970.

The ratio was .60 in 1982 and about .63 this year.

Adjusting for that, jobs lost to number of civilian employed, as percentage, was worse yet in 1982, at 15.67 percent, than the 13.45 percent last year, thus strengthening my argument.

Yes, there are other ways of skinning the cat, but per the job-loss measure which, as I said, is not fudgeable, 2008 wasn't as bad as 1982. Nor as bad as 1983; I noticed

Now, 2009 may well be worse. I'm not denying that. But, let's not yet get too much into doom and gloom.

Remember that statement about fear a certain other Democratic president made in 1933? And, if you're going to claim that you already know the current recession will turn out worse than 1980-82, don't post here unless you first send me some proof of your age.

Update, June 5, 2009: Welcome to people hitting this blog post after announcement of the May unemployment numbers, along with the news that, NOW, not six months ago when I made this post, the unemployment numbers as of May are being noted as the worst in 25 years. That is, the worst since 1984, as the last effects of the 1980-82 recession petered out.