March 21, 2009

Move over, Prius

That beep-beep you hear in your rearview mirror is the new Honda Insight 2.0 blurring past you in Japanese auto sales. The new Insight, due for American sales rollout Tuesday, could well do the same here.

It’s priced less than $20K, below the current Prius 2.0 and surely below whatever Prius 3.0 will hit market at. Honda does this by simplifying its hybrid drive, vis-à-vis the Prius, and by building the new Insight as essentially a Honda vehicle, and not something new from the ground up.

That said, the simpler technology sacrifices about 2mpg on the highway to the Prius 2.0 and about 4, it’s expected, to Prius 3.0. it will also give up room to the third-gen Prius.

BUT, gas prices are low enough right now a couple of mpg within the hybrid world won’t matter for the price tag.

Toyota knows that, itself, and is supposedly bringing out a lower-priced hybrid in response.

Meanwhile, both companies continue work on lithium-ion batteries.

And the Chevy Volt? Maybe it will stick its nose out of a garage sometime before the end of the year, see its shadow,and go into permanent hibernation.

I agree with the analysis part of the story. All-electric cars are probably as dead as a doorknob for the foreseeable future. Once again, GM will strike out.

And not just GM. Euro carmakers are also way behind the curve on hybrids. Honda has done more look at passenger diesels than has Toyota. If it can drop a diesel Insight on Germany, boom, it gets a definite Euro foothold.

DFW passes 6.3 million

Geez, it’s ridiculous. At this rate, with the highest growth numbers in the nation, Dallas-Fort Worth will cross 6.5 million by the end of 2010.

Chutzpah watch: WaMu suing FDIC

Boy, the megabanks STILL “just don’t get it” just refuse to get it.

Washington Mutual is suing the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation for a cool $13 billion it claims the agency caused it to lose in banking operations.

The FDIC turned down a number of WaMu claims allowances for lack of specificity.

To which, in the lawsuit, WaMu is, in essence, saying, “Trust us!”

But, there’s this tidbit further down the story, indicating WaMu must not follow news on a daily basis.

In the midst of outrage over AIG bonuses, etc., WaMu is seeking a jury trial.

Uhh, yeah, good luck with that.

Good luck with a judge this side of Nepal finding a jury that’s “untainted” by financial meltdown news.

Is the Great Wall of Geithner crumbling?

Sunday, on “60 Minutes,” President Barack Obama will be asked if he would accept Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner’s resignation, if offered. You can guess the answer, but the mere fact the question is being asked should put on notice Obama, Geithner and economic sockpuppet Larry Summers.

The Religious Right that the Israel Lobby supports

No, not OUR Religious Right. Israel’s Religious Right. The ones who said, taking a page from Yahweh telling Saul to kill all the Amalekites, that their war was a religious mission to “get rid of the gentiles who disturb us from conquering the holy land. “

Yep, that’s the folks to whom President Barack Obama kowtowed when he dumped, and shat on in some way, Charles Freeman as his would-be national intelligence briefer.

What was it Tevye says about everybody winding up “eyeless and toothless”? Sounds like some ultra-orthodox rabbis need to go see “Fiddler on the Roof.”

Not Whoville – Geithnerville

And, is it too early to ask about Obama re-election odds?

Treasury Secretary Geithner’s bad assets buy-up plan is, as I blogged earlier today, possibly the biggest government charity to rich financiers and speculators since Alexander Hamilton’s “assumption” move at the start of the United States.

Except that it is both more deceitful, by far, and more incompetent, also by far, in its conception. Details, details.

Here’s the details of Geithner’s “assumption”:
The plan to be announced next week involves three separate approaches. In one, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation will set up special-purpose investment partnerships and lend about 85 percent of the money that those partnerships will need to buy up troubled assets that banks want to sell.

In the second, the Treasury will hire four or five investment management firms, matching the private money that each of the firms puts up on a dollar-for-dollar basis with government money.

In the third piece, the Treasury plans to expand lending through the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility, a joint venture with the Federal Reserve.

The third prong has already, in an earlier form, drawn drools from hedge funds and the like, meaning we should be suspicious.

The FDIC partnerships in leg one will also have these types of folks drooling.
To entice private investors like hedge funds and private equity firms to take part, the F.D.I.C. will provide nonrecourse loans — that is, loans that are secured only by the value of the mortgage assets being bought — worth up to 85 percent of the value of a portfolio of troubled assets.

That leaves the second leg, and given both Geithner’s and Ben Bernanke’s lack of forthrightness on TARP and TARP 2.0 issues, what sort of guarantee will he have about any clarity re these investment management firms?

Answer: None.

Answer No. 2: Don’t be surprise if an investment bank whose initials are Goldman Sachs finds itself just “happening” to be hired.

Anyway, better economic minds than mine in the blogosphere are giving this the smackdown it royally deserves.

Elsewhere, Krugman, Calculated Risk and John Cole weigh in.

Krugman says it is an issue of pretending bad banks aren’t really bad and that we just have cash flow issue. Calculated Risk calls it a direct subsidy to speculators.

Cole goes in more depth:
If this were a medical emergency, it appears it would look something like this:

The Illness- reckless and irresponsible betting led to huge losses
The Diagnosis- Insufficient gambling.
The Cure- a Trillion dollar stack of chips provided by the house.
The Prognosis- We are so screwed.

We are; Geithner buddies, not so much. Only part of the analysis I disagree with is I don’t see any “house guarantee” limiting us to $1 trillion on our stack of chips.

Naked Capitalism points out the shell game angle:
Dear God, the Administration really thinks the public is full of idiots. But there are so many components to the program, and a lot of moving parts in each, they no doubt expect everyone’s eyes to glaze over.

But warns, a la Lincoln, you can get some of the people’s eyes to glaze over all of the time, and all of the people’s eyes to glaze over some of the time, but you can’t get all of the people’s eyes to glaze over all of the time:
Regardless, the equity comes from TARP, and Elizabeth Warren of the Congressional Oversight Panel is no slouch. What will happen when she asks for reports of how the actions have gone (for instance, how many failed because the reserve was not met?) The mechanics will become more apparent to the public over time and may yet come back to haunt Team Obama.

Haunt... around 2012?

Oh, and now add James Galbraith. to the list of the undeceived, who identifies Geithner’s “Rube Goldberg” schemes:
If I’m right and the mortgages are largely trash, then the Geithner plan is a Rube Goldberg device for shifting inevitable losses from the banks to the Treasury, preserving the big banks and their incumbent management in all their dysfunctional glory. The cost will be continued vast over-capacity in banking, and a consequent weakening of the remaining, smaller, better- managed banks who didn’t participate in the garbage-loan frenzy.

You’re right as rain, James.

So, is anybody contacting Vegas betting houses on one-term presidency odds? Seriously.

Between this and the CBO’s massive new deficit estimates — which Team Obama, typical of Democratic administrations, is ignoring/dissing since they can’t be used to beat up a Republican president these days, is it too early to ask that question?

I say not.


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GOP has until September to get healthy

House Democrats, in conjunction with the White House, have given the GOP until September to play ball on real bipartisan healthcare reform or have Democratic reform rammed down their throats by budget reconciliation mechanisms.

On the one hand, real national healthcare reform is too serious to get mucked too much over politics, rather than true ideological issues. (That said, the GOP ought to look at Britain’s Conservatives; that party wants to expand Britain’s NHS.)

On the second hand, given that Obama, via Geithner, basically lied about his plans to clean up Wall Street, and wanted to make vets pay for more of their own healthcare after campaigning about BushCo callousness to vets, who says that any national healthcare ideas from Obama will be real reform? (At least we won’t — I hope — have Tom Daschle helming the legislation, trying to help his healthcare industry buddies.)

On the third hand, top Senate Dems like Robert Byrd have indicated in the past their coolness to the budget reconciliation route, and wee conspicuously missing from this press release, I mean, news story.

Starbucks OK with EFCA alternative; SEIU involved?

In fact, the Seattle coffee giant is actively exploring a legislative option to the Employee Free Choice Act, thereby drawing the fire of pro-business groups like the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. Vice President Stefan H. Gleason called Starbucks' position “totally unacceptable.”

The story says Starbucks is “engaged in dialogue” on the possible alternative, but doesn’t say with whom.

Off the top of my head, I guess Andy Stern and his Service Employees International Union. Given that he has a history of being employer-friendly, and a parallel history in being aggressive in seeking out new union turf, this would be his type of move.

Update: It turns out the Starbucks option ain’t much of an option, from a labor POV. Even Andy Stern can’t be short-sighted enough to sign off on something like this, either.

Israel appears guilty of serious war crimes

That’s the preliminary take on Israel’s actions in Gaza by the UN’s David Falk either directly or indirectly, by commission or omission.

He cites Israel’s failure, apparently deliberate, to distinguish between civilians and combatants, and possibly also, its constraining civilians from leaving a war zone.

Note to Israel Lobby and fundamentalist Protestant fellow travelers:

A. You can’t pressure UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, unlike President Obama;
B. Falk is Jewish.

Israel Lobby and fundamentalist Protestant fellow travelers will score down his assessment in part for having to rely on sources from Gaza to the degree his estimated death toll is the same as their’s.

Well, yes, that’s because Israel barred him from entering the country.

Tim Geithner, meet Alexander Hamilton

From where I sit, Treasury Secretary Geithner’s bad assets buy-up plan, the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility, in its details could be the most controversial proposal to come out of his Cabinet office since his illustrious predecessor’s proposal to buy up Revolutionary War bonded indebtedness at face value.

In case you’re not familiar with the details of that, at the start of Washington’s presidency, Hamilton proposed buying up Revolutionary War debt, in the form of various bonds issued by the old Confederation, at face value, a process known as “assumption.” That was even though many of the bonds weren’t in the hands of their original holders, most of whom had to sell to speculators for much less than face value in the financial crisis of the middle 1780s.

Jefferson and his followers strongly opposed the measure. Hamilton convinced Washington of its soundness and constitutionality, then, as a sop to Jefferson, agreed to throw his support behind establishing the nation’s permanent capital on the Potomac.

Here’s the details of Geithner’s “assumption”:
The plan to be announced next week involves three separate approaches. In one, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation will set up special-purpose investment partnerships and lend about 85 percent of the money that those partnerships will need to buy up troubled assets that banks want to sell.

In the second, the Treasury will hire four or five investment management firms, matching the private money that each of the firms puts up on a dollar-for-dollar basis with government money.

In the third piece, the Treasury plans to expand lending through the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility, a joint venture with the Federal Reserve.

The third prong has already, in an earlier form, drawn drools from hedge funds and the like, meaning we should be suspicious.

The FDIC partnerships in leg one will also have these types of folks drooling.
To entice private investors like hedge funds and private equity firms to take part, the F.D.I.C. will provide nonrecourse loans — that is, loans that are secured only by the value of the mortgage assets being bought — worth up to 85 percent of the value of a portfolio of troubled assets.

That leaves the second leg, and given both Geithner’s and Ben Bernanke’s lack of forthrightness on TARP and TARP 2.0 issues, what sort of guarantee will he have about any clarity re these investment management firms?

Answer: None.

Answer No. 2: Don’t be surprise if an investment bank whose initials are Goldman Sachs finds itself just “happening” to be hired.

That said, the story notes that, post-AIG bonuses, many investment firms may be reluctant to get involved.

Fine. Shoot Ed Liddy, then get involved with the asset bailout.

Elsewhere, Krugman, Calculated Risk and John Cole

Krugman says it is an issue of pretending bad banks aren't really bad and that we just have cash flow issue. Calculated Risk calls it a direct subsidy to speculators.

Cole goes in more depth:
If this were a medical emergency, it appears it would look something like this:

The Illness- reckless and irresponsible betting led to huge losses
The Diagnosis- Insufficient gambling.
The Cure- a Trillion dollar stack of chips provided by the house.
The Prognosis- We are so screwed.

We are; Geithner buddies, not so much.

Naked Capitalism points out the shell game angle:
Dear God, the Administration really thinks the public is full of idiots. But there are so many components to the program, and a lot of moving parts in each, they no doubt expect everyone's eyes to glaze over.

But warns, a la Lincoln, you can get some of the people’s eyes to glaze over all of the time, and all of the people’s eyes to glaze over some of the time, but you can’t get all of the people’s eyes to glaze over all of the time:
Regardless, the equity comes from TARP, and Elizabeth Warren of the Congressional Oversight Panel is no slouch. What will happen when she asks for reports of how the actions have gone (for instance, how many failed because the reserve was not met?) The mechanics will become more apparent to the public over time and may yet come back to haunt Team Obama.

So, is anybody contacting Vegas betting houses on one-term presidency odds?

Oh, and now add James Galbraith. to the list of the undeceived, who identifies Geithner’s “Rube Goldberg” schemes:
If I’m right and the mortgages are largely trash, then the Geithner plan is a Rube Goldberg device for shifting inevitable losses from the banks to the Treasury, preserving the big banks and their incumbent management in all their dysfunctional glory. The cost will be continued vast over-capacity in banking, and a consequent weakening of the remaining, smaller, better- managed banks who didn’t participate in the garbage-loan frenzy.

You’re right as rain, James.

Secretary Geithner, I never met Alexander Hamilton, but I still know you’re no Alexander Hamilton.


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‘Paulsonism’ is the $10 trillion word of the day

And, not a damn thing to legally do…

Well, one of several words and phrases of the day from Matt Taibbi, who explain how former Treasury Secretary (and former Goldman Sachs CEO) Henry Paulson joined with former AIG CEO Hank Greenberg, Phil Gramm and many others royally screwed over the country either directly or indirectly, by commission or omission.

Basically, the thrust of Taibbi’s story, in depth and snarky, is that Wall Street has become like former GM CEO Charlie Wilson, and essentially saying, “What’s good for Wall Street is good for the nation.” And, since these financial instruments are a bit more complex than a 1955 Bel-Air, Wall Street and its government enablers can flip the public the bird:
As complex as all the finances are, the politics aren’t hard to follow. By creating an urgent crisis that can only be solved by those fluent in a language too complex for ordinary people to understand, the Wall Street crowd has turned the vast majority of Americans into non-participants in their own political future.

And, speaking of those government enablers …

Forget TARP or TARP 2.0; direct Federal Reserve money-pushing has already shuffled off $3 trillion or so to these monoliths of megalomania, via loans, and perhaps as much as $6 trillion more through guarantees.

That’s nearly $10 trillion to the likes of AIG. And it’s current CEO, Edward Liddy, wonders why we’re so pissed off?

So, who puts the reins on the Fed? According to Taibbi, on page 7, The Accounting and Auditing Act of 1950 – relevant section, 31 USC 714(b) – says NOBODY. That’s right, Ben Bernanke can flip you and me off, too, allegedly.

And, of course, he has, with the full connivance of Geithner, who knows the Fed flip-off ropes from his former position running the NY Fed.

Meanwhile, while cronies of Paulson get the money with no questions asked, after five months of the TARP program, Joe Blow banks, in some cases, not only haven’t gotten any money, they haven’t even gotten a phone call.

Oh, don’t look for Team Obama to change this, either. It, too, gets a full blast of Taibbi’s scorched-earth writing:
The real question from here is whether the Obama administration is going to move to bring the financial system back to a place where sanity is restored and the general public can have a say in things or whether the new financial bureaucracy will remain obscure, secretive and hopelessly complex. It might not bode well that Geithner, Obama's Treasury secretary, is one of the architects of the Paulson bailouts; as chief of the New York Fed, he helped orchestrate the Goldman-friendly AIG bailout and the secretive Maiden Lane facilities used to funnel funds to the dying company. Neither did it look good when Geithner — himself a protégé of notorious Goldman alum John Thain, the Merrill Lynch chief who paid out billions in bonuses after the state spent billions bailing out his firm — picked a former Goldman lobbyist named Mark Patterson to be his top aide.

But, Obama will never fire Geithner. Per the start of Taibbi’s report, Democrats have been in the tank for Wall Street for a decade, and, although Taibbi doesn’t come out and say it, Obama is Poster Child No. 1 for that, worse than the Slickster ever was.

Is that Rev. Jeremiah Wright I hear?
God DAMN Barack Obama; God DAMN Barack Obama …

Warm up the pipes, Rev.; you can substitute for the fat lady

March 20, 2009

Dem Senators disagree with Obama on Geithner

Just two months into his shaky-start, shaky-action service, a lot of Democratic senators, unlike President Obama, have a lot less than full confidence in Tim Geithner’s running of the Treasury.

Of course, without media coverage, they wouldn’t feel that way, yet.

And, they don't actually disagree; if they did, on an issue this big, they'd start trying to impeach him.

Chutzpah alert – AIG sues government

As in its 80 percent shareholder, the government. It’s not over the bonuses, but over the IRS saying it got too creative with offshore tax shelters.

Shock me.

Ixnay on atmospheric particulate seeding

At least with sulfur particles, beyond the obvious acid rain worries, the particles WOULD help global warming by blocking some sunlight, but, at a price …

The blocking, plus evey more scattering and diffusing, would put a big dent in solar energy production.

An off the top-of-my-head guess says particulate aerosols would have similar “issues.”

March 19, 2009

Obama not so boffo with Leno

First, especially given many Democrats greater degree of sensitivity toward interest groups, President Obama saying, during taping, his bowling skill was “like the Special Olympics,” was insensitive, and of course, had wingers jumping all over him.

(That said, the laughter level died off from his first comment about his bowling score to the Special Olympics line.)

Now, I think political correctness is overblown. But, the nation’s Democrat-in-Chief is hoist by a semi-official petard of his own party.

Then, it was apparent Leno was throwing what, even for Leno’s standards, are softball questions.

First, was a setup question to ask if Obama was “stunned” to hear about the AIG bonuses. Even without a TelePrompTer, Obama could hammer that one out of the park.

NO question about Tim Geithner’s lie about when he had first heard of the bonuses. NO question about Geithner pushing for the bonuses loophole. NO admission by Obama that both sides of the duopoly had eliminated “common sense regulations,” namely Glass-Steagall, 11 years ago. NO challenging of Obama’s statement that this is the worst thing since the Depression.

Speaking of the first point, to use an Al Haigism, Geithner is now caveating his language on what he knew, and when, about AIG’s bonuses.

Meanwhile, Jay found a comic to do an appearance just to make Jay look funny – Jimmy Fallon.

Reverse evolution of Democratic Presidents

Of the last few modern Democratic presidents, it sure seems to me like each is more conservative than his predecessor.

LBJ? Set aside ’Nam, and he’s clearly a liberal.

Carter? Semi-liberal, and probably more so, in some ways, than the majority of the Congress he couldn’t work with.

Clinton? DLC Democrat, long before taking hits from the crack pipe of Dick Morris’ “triangulation.”

Obama? Jury so far says, latching on to most of Bush’s “presidentialism” power grab, and in the hip pocket of Big Finance.

Team Obama old financial ideas may be out of date

James Galbraith is definitely on the same page as I am with his somewhat worried cogitations about whether Larry Summers, Tim Geithner, Peter Orzag, Christina Romer et al aren’t trying to apply 20th-century ideas to a 21st-century economic difficulty.

Chief worry? Their belief, one that transcends “liberal” and “conservative” sides of modern economics, that our economy is ultimately self-sustaining, or to put it another way, that it has a certain natural homeostasis. As Galbraith puts it, the liberal/conservative split is over what policies best get it back to that point.

Well, what if they’re wrong?

And, what if they’re wrong that the private banking system needs to be a chief motor of the economy?
Geithner’s banking plan would prolong the state of denial. …
The oddest thing about the Geithner program is its failure to act as though the financial crisis is a true crisis—an integrated, long-term economic threat—rather than merely a couple of related but temporary problems, one in banking and the other in jobs.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Read Galbraith’s whole piece for four solutions he offers to what we really need. (Think bigger additional stimulus bills, real bank intervention, and a jobs program, among other things.) Galbraith also pooh-poohs inflationary worries about the degree of deficit spending this would involve.

That said, while I’m not a “deficit hawk,” some of Galbraith’s assumptions in the piece cannot go unchallenged.

Above all is the assumption that the rest of the world will bankroll such massive public debt because we’re “the indispensable country.” THAT is exactly the type of hubris, from both sides of the two-party duopoly aisle, that has us where we’re at right now.

Beyond that, you don’t even need to read Galbraith. Try Paul Kennedy, “The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers.”

Abstinence-only sex-ed fails in Texas – my newspaper take

From my March 12 newspaper column:

If politics and religion are the two verboten conversation topics, then, on an editorial page, perhaps “sex education” is the third rail. But, I’m going to go ahead and grab it with both hands and, I hope, provoke some thought.

What brought this to mind is a two-year study, sponsored by the Texas Freedom Network and done by two health education professors from Texas State University, released late last month.

In a nutshell, the study documents the many failures of abstinence-only sex education in Texas public schools.

When male students are worried about getting cervical cancer and the state hasn’t dented one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country, it’s obvious what’s being taught now isn’t working.

Among the findings?

First, about 98 percent of public school students get abstinence-only sex education. For most of these students, talk about sexual abstinence itself may be the only sex education they get inside schools. Second, more than 80 percent of school districts receive no formal recommendations on sex education from state-mandated local advisory councils.

Third, information presented beyond “just say no” is often just wrong. Here in the Metroplex, Hurst-Euless-Bedford’s eighth-grade curriculum claims condoms have only about an 80 percent reliability rate. Actual fact? They’re about 97-98 percent reliable. HEB officials claim they don’t know where they got their info, but it’s hard for me not to agree with the Texas Freedom Network some scare tactics started this.

Another alleged “fact” that is wrong? Many schools’ sex education programs still claim that HIV can be transmitted through sweat or tears. Nope. Various curricula also get information about the prevention of transmitting other sexually-related diseases incorrect.
Fourth is the attempted inculcation of particular values, some of which seem to be grounded in Christianity, or even particular versions of Christianity.

For example, the report says one abstinence-only program used in 53 school districts says women need “financial support,” while men need “domestic support.” Sounds kind of sexist to me, and based on what many people might call a “Religious Right” interpretation of male-female relationships.

That said, let me go beyond TFN’s study to take a broader look at teen sexuality.
First, premarital teenage sexual activity wasn’t something invented in the late 20th century.
In Victorian Scotland, where people normally got married in their late teens, one-third of brides were pregnant on their wedding day.

The deal here is not so much that modern American teens have become that much more sexual, nor that the “liberal media” is the prime mover of any such increase in teen sexuality. (And the degree it is to blame, the not-so-liberal Fox TV network is the most salacious of the four broadcast TV networks.)

The deal is that the average age of marriage in the United States today is 25 or so, not the 18 or less it was in 1870s Scotland. In that country and era, nobody went to college, almost nobody graduated high school and most youth didn’t even go to high school. You hit 14 or so and went to a farm, sheep ranch, fishing boat or factory.

Our world today is different, and we need to prevent the social wreckage of unplanned pregnancies, while dealing with the same male and female physiology as 1870s Scots did.

While it might not be impossible for youth, adolescents, etc. going well into adulthood, to put their hormonal jets on hold an additional seven years, it ain’t realistic from where I sit to expect that, and from where many other Americans sit.

That said, it’s often explicitly religious beliefs, explicitly Christian beliefs, that are the cornerstone of public-school abstinence-only sex education in our state.

The study found many Texas classrooms inject religious instruction and Bible study into sex education programs.

“Hardly a page can be found that does not include multiple references to Bible verses, invocation of Christian principles, even attempts to proselytize students with the Christian plan of salvation,” the report says of a curriculum called Wonderful Days, used by three school districts in the Fort Worth area.

Along with the Texas Freedom Network, I also have a problem with the Bible as part of sexual education curriculum.

There’s obvious First Amendment issues here – after all, what would conservative Christians say if sex education lessons were taught from the Quran in our high schools, and male students were told that, if they stayed on the straight and narrow this life, instead of seeing Jesus in the next one, that they would see – and “enjoy” – 70 virgins, instead?

As for conservative Christians who would argue “the majority rules,” many of our Founding Fathers explicitly worried about “the tyranny of the majority.”

Besides, in the Old Testament half of the Christian Bible, we have:

1. A lover talking about his beloved’s breasts, and euphemistically about other body parts, in the Song of Songs. (Think “belly.”)

2. Ruth having pre-marital gleaning fields blanket bingo with Boaz. (Exposing someone’s “feet” is an idiom used more than once in the Old Testament).

3. A Levite (think “deacon” today) openly traveling with his mistress in Judges.

Even if you don’t want the Quran and 70 virgins in your child’s public school sex education, if you’re a Protestant, would you want your child told not only that abstinence is right but modern forms of birth control are wrong?

If parents want to teach a biblically-based abstinence-only sex education at home, fire away. Neither I nor the Texas Freedom Network is going to come knocking on your door. And, if school districts want to teach religion-free scientific thoughts on abstinence as part of sexual education, while also teaching high schoolers basic facts they need to know if they’re going to be sexually active, I’m fine with that.

Abstinence as an option, even the first choice? Sure. Abstinence only? No.

Let AIG fail? Here’s the case for

Ari J. Officer has one central point: It would lance the still-inflated credit bubble faster than anything.

Beyond that, Officer says AIG’s plight may not be so bad as believed, primarily because it may have multiply-insured the same credit default swaps, kind of like selling insurance on the same house to multiple investors.

Given everything else we’re learning about AIG, this would in no way surprise me, were it true.

Finally, if CDSs are a zero-sum game, Officer says SOMEBODY wins if AIG loses.
if the number of institutions involved in swap-trading were limited to those trading with AIG, then AIG is probably not too big to fail. We have to worry about chains of claims. Just because AIG dealt only with banks does not mean those banks did not rewrite similar contracts with hedge funds.

So, let’s let it fail. Fuck Tim the Douche Bag Geithner and his boss, Mr. former No. 2 AIG Senator.

Josephus made up the Essenes

So says Israeli scholar Rachel Elior, who teaches Jewish mysticism at Hebrew University.

Then, who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls?

The Zadokites, after a rupture in the priesthood, whether before or after the Maccabean revolt.

The Zadokite idea isn’t that revolutionary; a lot of modern scholars of that era postulate some rupture, with a set of “puritan” priests separating themselves from temple worship. And, many of those scholars agree that most scrolls probably weren’t written at Qumran, contra James Charlesworth’s mention of “inkpots” in the story.

That said, Elior’s claim that the Zadokite split was while the Seleucids still controlled Palestine IS less of a consensus view; other scholars who postulate such a rupture put it after the Maccabees’ success, and some of their later priests became more corrupt. And, yet others say the DSS relate to an early Christian split, with followers of Jesus’ brother James writing about Paul as the “man of lies.”

But, I’ve not seen Elior’s main point pushed forward before, that Josephus invented the Essenes as a counterweight to anti-Semitism.

Read the full story for details of her theory, including how she explains references to Essenes by Pliny, Philo, etc.

Guess who’s coming to – the AIG – dinner

It’s true that Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd was the largest Senate receiver of AIG largesse in the 2008 election cycle.

But, who was No. 2?

Why, a certain former junior senator from Illinois. The plot and the shit both thicken.

Ahh, you Obamiacs… having fun today? Is this the change you voted for?

All you people, alleged “liberals,” who attacked me (and people like me), for touting a Green Party vote last year, ready to start eating the MASSIVE plate of crow on your dinner table?

Another day, another Geithner lie

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner knew the basics of the AIG bonuses 10 days before he claimed he did. And, his old place of work, the New York Fed, even warned about retention bonuses.

We know Obama won't fire him. How about some GOP Congressmen, even if for purely partisan reasons, pushing impeachment?

March 18, 2009

Dodd falling on sword, or being pushed off the plank?

And, if you ask me which metaphor is true, it’s clearly No. 2

Senator Chris Dodd admits HE inserted the retroactive bonus donning provision … BUT …

At the request of Team Obama, as he made clear in a follow-up statement:
“I did not want to make any changes to my original Senate-passed amendment but I did so at the request of Administration officials, who gave us no indication that this was in any way related to AIG. Let me be clear – I was completely unaware of these AIG bonuses until I learned of them last week.

Dodd added that the alternative was losing his amendment on bonuses in the stimulus bill, entirely.

Tis true that Dodd was the largest Senate receiver of AIG largesse in the 2008 election cycle.

But, who was No. 2?

Why, a certain former junior senator from Illinois. The plot and the shit both thicken.

Plus, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner knew the basics of the AIG bonuses 10 days before he claimed he did. And, his old place of work, the New York Fed, even warned about retention bonuses.

The phrase “fucking douche bag” comes to mind.

Helen Giddings for Dallas County Judge?

She says she’s interested. And, more interestingly, she says she’s been approached.

Assuming that was by Dallas County Democratic leaders, it would mean that they’re worried about incumbent Jim Foster’s ability, as well as the possibility that a John Wiley Price-controlled sockpuppet could win the nomination but lose the general election.

Giddings, who has a reputation for bipartisanship in the Lege down in Austin, would be tough for the GOP to defeat. She’s never given any indication of being under the control of Price. And, with 16 years, now, in the Lege, she has plenty of experience.

Sounds like a winner to me, if her interest translates into a run.

Washington Monthly drinks Obama Kool-Aid on AIG

Steve Benen actually takes Obama’s “righteous indignation” over AIG at face value.

You know how this is feigned, not real outrage?

Rather than using one of more of the plenty of already existing federal regulatory agencies, Obama, as is seemingly his wont, proposes to create a new agency.

On the narrow issue of AIG bonuses, little Timmy Geithner and sock-puppetmaster Larry Summers killed a simple Senate line item five weeks ago. No new, or even current, regulatory agency was needed.

On the broader issue, you want to regulate banks? Just give the FDIC new powers. Trading of investments? Beef up the SEC (remember that little thing called Glass-Steagall) or other financial institutions.

No new inventions needed.

The failed presidency of Obama

Liberal commentator T.A. Frank writes an excellent look-ahead column about a one-term Obama presidency, ultimately detrained by Mike Huckabee.

Why failed?

Riffing on John McCain’s hackneyed campaign comment, Frank looks in Obama’s eyes and ultimately sees three letters: A-I-G.

Read the whole column.

Team Obama starts crapping on Chris Dodd

What else can you call the clusterfuck of fingerpointing by the Obama Administration against the Connecticut Senator over AIG bonuses, even as President Barack Obama himself says Geither has his full confidence.

How’d we get here? Ask Geithner why he pushed to REMOVE retroactivity on bonus checks from the final version of the 2009 lenders’ bailout bill; a provision Dodd inserted in the Senate version.

And now, Obama completes the crapping with more bullshit, this time over the alleged need for a new financial regulatory agency.

Or ask this head up his ass Kossack why he doesn’t get it, even as I laugh in schadenfreude at the other Kossacks posting there telling him his “greatest president in history” needs to do something to earn the honor.

I’m laughing in schadenfreude because, three or so years ago, people like that helped get me banned.

Beyond that is the issue of the transparency of Team Obama lies. It must be something else it picked up from BushCo and decided to keep.

I mean, this one is a couple of steps short, even, of “the dog ate my homework.”

Remember when Obama said he wasn’t worried about conservative attacks because he’d been through Chicago politics? Well, shamefully, he’s showing just how much he learned.

Anti-vaccine nutbars spooking Somalis

Children of Somali immigrants in the Twin Cities appear to have a higher than normal rate of what appears to be autism.

I use “appear” twice because:
• Autism is still not clearly defined and overlaps with symptom definitions such as Pervasive Development Disorder, which is itself not a disease or syndrome;
• We don’t know what causes autism — adding that to not clearly knowing what autism is only compounds the issue;
• It’s not clear if the “spike” in Minneapolis-St. Paul is statistically significant or not.

None of these highly relevant facts, though, has prevented leaders of the anti-vaccination conspiracy crusade to scare Somalis into believing vaccines cause autism. As the story notes, this is compounded by the fact Somalia has a very high measles rate and many of the immigrants, children in tow, go back there from time to time.

Read the full sttory for more information.

March 17, 2009

VandeHei calls AIG bullshit on two-party duopoly

Nothing like a feigned sense of outrage by politicos to CYA for what should be the real outrage AGAINST politicos of both parties.

Considering AIG’s bonus payment plans have been on the books for a year (during which time Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner headed the NY Fed and oversaw AIG), the outrage is feigned indeed.

How’d we get here? Ask Geithner why he pushed to REMOVE retroactivity on bonus checks from the final version of the 2009 lenders’ bailout bill.

Obama surrenders again before the battle starts

OK, I can understand picking a judge from Indiana, since you were the first Democratic presidential candidate to win the state since 1964, for the Seventh Circuit Court bench in Chicago. Because he’s from Indiana, I can understand that David Hamilton will lean more moderate.

But, you’re either surrendering before the battle has started, or else this is a(nother) sign of the true, moderate not progressive, Barack Obama:
A senior administration official said Judge Hamilton would have the support of both Mr. Bayh, a Democrat, and the state’s other senator, Richard G. Lugar, a Republican. He will be nominated for a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, based in Chicago.

The administration official said part of the reason for making the Hamilton nomination the administration’s first public entry into the often contentious field of judicial selection was to serve “as a kind of signal” about the kind of nominees Mr. Obama will select…

The administration official said the White House was hoping to reduce the partisan contentiousness of judicial confirmation battles of recent years.

“We would like to put the history of the confirmation wars behind us,” the official said.

Ridiculous. Even the Slickster didn’t announce that in 1993, or after the midterm elections in 1994.

That may have been the type of judges he selected. See Ginsberg and, even more, Breyer, at SCOTUS.

BUT… he didn’t announce that in advance.

Kumbaya will get its hat handed to it again, perhaps? Obama again not showing real change or a new way of governing.

Richard Cohen, financial ignoramus

As opposed to the more general ignoramus, or DC Village ignoramus, he is at other times. In his latest column, he takes Jon Stewart to task for reaming Jim Cramer.

Cohen touts how everybody thought AIG was a safe investment, yada, yada, yada.

BUT… he ignores that Stewart took Cramer to task not for AIG, but toothless coverage of the larger financial crisis. And, it’s well-deserved criticism.

The subprime crisis was already starting to show up by the middle of 2006. Fiancial institutions, including swaps partners of AIG, knew they had derivatives that were shaky at best.

So, Cohen has just specialized his ignorance into a new direction.

VD Hanson has a partial stopped watch moment

Yeppers, V(ictor) D(avis) Hanson is actually partially right about Barney Frank (except for the anti-gay homophobic innuendo part).

Hey, I agree with Frank’s idea for more regulatory reform of our nation’s financial system. (Of course, VD Hanson doesn’t, so he’s down to about 25 percent right, now.)

But, Frank would be even more legitimate if he and other Members of Congress gave back old AIG campaign donations. THERE, old VD is as right as post-coital drip or something.

OK, VD, you got that part right. Time to go back to being 100 percent wrong.

Massachusetts faces harder choices on public healthcare

Can the Bay State and Gov. Deval Patrick really rein in healthcare costs?

The Democratic legislature and GOP Gov. Mitt Romney punted tough choices down the road when they adopted, at the state level, the first American attempt at “national” healthcare.

Will avoiding fee-for-service payment to doctors help enough? Or even more emphasis on wellness? Or is it time to regulate hospitals and clinics away from buying ever-greater amounts of ever-more-expensive diagnostic equipment and such?

In other words, is the time for what wingers call “rationing” here?

If you don’t trust Obama on AIG…

You certainly shouldn’t trust him on civil liberties, presidential powers and “presidentialism,” and a whole raft of related stuff.

“Enemy combatants” are still that in everything but name.

John Yoo should be let off the hook because we allegedly didn’t know torture was wrong five years ago.

Hey, Obamiacs, when will you take him off the pedestal and your collective craniums out of your collective rectums?

Brad Sherman pegged Tim Geithner

Here’s more of why you shouldn’t be surprised Geithner let himself get punked.

California Democratic Rep. Brad Sherman told Bloomberg last week that AIG should be put into receivership.

(Further Goldman Sachs connection – AIG CEO Liddy was on Goldman Sachs’ board of directors when Henry Paulson was its CEO.

Now, Sherman tells Talking Points Memo Treasury ALREADY has the power to void the bonuses.

Sherman adds that this is why he voted against the original bailout: he didn’t think Treasury would use that power.

And, why does TPM disable user comments on this story? C’mon, Josh.

If you want to cut off the AIG gravy train, Jane Hamsher has a petition drive.

In the meantime, don’t believe Obama’s claim to be an everyman on this issue until he proves it.

Or, here’s another way Sherman put it:
“The problem now isn't too big to fail. It's too well-connected to fail.”

Someone give this Congressman a cigar!


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Useful Idiot Watch, aka GOP Blonde Bimbo Alert

Awfully nice of Laura Ingraham to give me the first half of the post’s title, lifted directly from her latest attempt to out-Coulter Ann Coulter by once again attacking Meghan McCain.

First, with Coulter, since she’s the GOP Blonde Bimbo poster girl.

I don’t think she’s that good looking. More like a hammerheaded roan horse who stays thin by gargling two packs of Marlboros a day.

Back to the link, though.

Note to Ms. InGraham Cracker: Rush IS Fat. Meghan McCain ain’t anything but normal. And, you may gargle with two packs of Marlboros a day too, for all I know, to stay thin. As for you being a peroxide blonde, we would really be lucky if you and Ann were peroxide lesbians, therefore removing you from the rest of the relationship and gene pools.

March 16, 2009

Do you trust Geithner-Summers on AIG?

I don’t. Whether through stupidity, or willing cooperation, Geithner let himself get punked by AIG, as a letter to him AIG CEO Edward Liddy shows.

Remember, AIG’s No. 1 bailout pass-through beneficiary is Goldman Sachs of Geithner-Summers background and massive Obama campaign donations.

So, you have Summers claiming AIG bonus contracts are inviolable. Of course, Glenn Greenwald calls bullshit on that idea, with counter-examples.

And, if AIG doesn’t like that, we can either take back the bailout money or nationalize it.

(If you think Geithner-Summers will actually do either one. A reader snarks at the end of Glenn’s post, that Obama could just give AIG immunity similar to the telecom immunity he flip-flopped on last summer.)

Obama SAYS he’s telling Geithner to find a way to reign in the bonuses. Uhh, sure.

In the next breath, Obama says he ISN’T planning on taking AIG to court. Like with the stimulus package, he’s starting from a position of compromise.

Here’s more of why you shouldn’t be surprised Geithner let himself get punked.

California Democratic Rep. Brad Sherman told Bloomberg last week that AIG should be put into receivership.

(Further Goldman Sachs connection – AIG CEO Liddy was on Goldman Sachs’ board of directors when Henry Paulson was its CEO.

Now, Sherman tells Talking Points Memo Treasury ALREADY has the power to void the bonuses.

Sherman adds that this is why he voted against the original bailout: he didn’t think Treasury would use that power.

And, why does TPM disable user comments on this story? C’mon, Josh.


If you want to cut off the AIG gravy train, Jane Hamsher has a petition drive.


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Is Krugman right to be so concerned about Europe

Personally, I think his concerns that Europe’s reaction to the recession is slow and less than adequate are about half right. Beyond the UK, not part of the Eurozone or the European Central Bank, and perhaps Spain, the recession isn’t hitting Europe in exactly the same way as the U.S.

And, before the slowdown hit full speed last year, the ECB’s concerns over inflation were legitimate, in my opinion. And, Krugman seems, at least in this column, to be (strangely?) unworried about post-recession inflation.

So, I’d cut his concerns by about half.

But, read the full column and judge for yourself.

Huey Long, Obama ain’t

And, cool, calm and collected may ultimately not play so well in Peoria, or elsewhere, if AIG still pays out multiple hundreds of millions in bonuses, including to the division of the company that caused most of its problems.

Didn’t I tell you about Obama’s e-mail list?

Those of you who have joined the 13-million Obama Army are now being recruited for your first mission – helping pass the new budget.

David Plouffe, who runs Organizing for America from inside the Democratic National Committee, will honcho the activism effort.

Thank doorknob I never sent The One an e-mail.

And, that all said, a dry run of this type of activism didn’t do all that well. Maybe Obama hasn’t quite so reinvented politics for the 21st century after all

Is Obama taking Euro-chastizing to heart?

All of a sudden, after Germany and France, especially, at the G20 meeting mentioned the need for tougher regulation of the financial sector before more stimulus programs get passed…

All of a sudden, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is working on a list of financial sector reforms, to be done before the April 4 G20 meeting, so the U.S. can “take the lead” on the issue.

Beyond trying to stay ahead of the G20, Geithner and President Barack Obama are also trying to stay ahead of Rep. Barney Frank, who has some more aggressive, relatively speaking, reform ideas.

Otherwise, agreed that not only Fed powers, but Fed responsibilities, need to be spelled out, and that all financial regulatory institutions need to be more carefully integrated.

March 15, 2009

WaPost op-eds wrong again – now over Freeman

Washington Post op-ed writer Charles Lane gets the withdrawal of Charles Freeman as President Obama’s would-have-been intelligence briefer almost all wrong.

The main way in which Lane is wrong, of course, is continuing the smears that drove Team Obama to “persuade” Freeman to withdraw his name in the first place.

The second way Lane is wrong is deliberately ignoring the fact that Team Obama did this, and that Freeman’s withdrawal wasn’t voluntary.

The third way Lane is wrong is denying or ignoring that such smears were committed.

Other than that, Lane has one good point.

He notes that Obama hasn’t responded to Freeman’s charges.

Silence gives assent, eh?

And, media in the Middle East clearly understands this much more than Lane does.

And, for just what those smears were all about, see Freeman’s withdrawal statement.

It’s time to tax healthcare benefits

It’s the only reasonable way, financially, to get us moving down the road toward national healthcare. We need to tax, at least in part, employer-provided healthcare benefits.

That said, President Obama is going to need to eat his campaign words against John McCain and personally back this issue.

As for Republicans who oppose it just because they oppose a larger government role in healthcare? You don’t count.

Republicans with more principled concerns? You can talk, but it has to be in the name of bipartisanship, and not obstructionism under a new name.

Traditional manufacturing unions? You’ve been opposing national healthcare for more than 50 years. You don’t count any more than winger Republicans.

Modern service-sector unions? You DO count. Your activist mobilization of member voices will be huge.

Within that sector, Service Employees International Union is going to have to step up to the plate and not engage in another round of Andy Stern’s corporate suck-up-it is.

Irony alert – Bush Library and funding

I do find it ironic that the economic clusterfuck presided over by our “MBA President” could stall fundraising to build his library. I hope it also slows construction of his mental institution institute.

Petraeus running for president in 2012?

Yes, yes, sometimes, a trip to Iowa, for a college commencement, may just be a trip to Iowa, but will Gen. David Petraeus have any other motive a visit to Iowa next year, as the Spectator speculates?

Long derided by progressives as a highly politicized general even by the standards of the modern, politicized, U.S. military, a Petraeus run would certainly change the Republican equation in some way. Or would it?

If President Obama achieves his pledge of getting all troops out of Iraq by the end of 2011, that leaves only Afghanistan as a battleground. Petraeus’ combat-level experience in Iraq then becomes irrelevant.

Of course, Petraeus would have to get the GOP nomination first. And, a dying ember of social conservatives would be sure to grill him on his stance on hot-button issues.

And, if the economy has done a decent amount of rebounding by the end of 2011, any GOP candidate will have an uphill road to climb.

Clay Shirky on the ‘whys’ of newspaper demise

Clay Shirky has three great posts on why the online newspaper world, as a business model, is basically vaporizing. I’m going to look at all three.

First, Shirky gives us the big picture of where we’re at today and why, including why the TV-radio model, the “digital garden” model of pay circulation, the micropayment model like iTunes and others, won’t work.

Here’s his nut graf, about one-quarter the way down:
The curious thing about the various plans hatched in the ’90s is that they were, at base, all the same plan: “Here’s how we’re going to preserve the old forms of organization in a world of cheap perfect copies!” The details differed, but the core assumption behind all imagined outcomes (save the unthinkable one) was that the organizational form of the newspaper, as a general-purpose vehicle for publishing a variety of news and opinion, was basically sound, and only needed a digital facelift. As a result, the conversation has degenerated into the enthusiastic grasping at straws, pursued by skeptical responses.

He next looks at the details of why some proposed alternative models won’t work, and have already been proven that way, at least to some degree:
“The Wall Street Journal has a paywall, so we can too!” (Financial information is one of the few kinds of information whose recipients don’t want to share.) “Micropayments work for iTunes, so they will work for us!” (Micropayments only work where the provider can avoid competitive business models.) “The New York Times should charge for content!” (They’ve tried, with QPass and later TimesSelect.) “Cook’s Illustrated and Consumer Reports are doing fine on subscriptions!” (Those publications forgo ad revenues; users are paying not just for content but for unimpeachability.) “We’ll form a cartel!” (…and hand a competitive advantage to every ad-supported media firm in the world.)

Shirky then pronounces his judgment, and it’s a somber one:
Round and round this goes, with the people committed to saving newspapers demanding to know “If the old model is broken, what will work in its place?” To which the answer is: Nothing. Nothing will work. There is no general model for newspapers to replace the one the internet just broke.

Shirky goes on to like how the Internet is doing some form of what (we hope) Joseph Schumpeter called “creative destruction” to print media is the biggest such change since Gutenberg and the printing press.

I insert the link multiple times because this is a LONG blog post; twice as long as many a newspaper column, and because it’s WELL worth reading. So read it.

But, as I said, this is only one of three posts.

Shirky also tackles the details of the micropayments model and why it won’t work. First, we relisten to the same songs, but don’t re-read the same newspaper story. Second, Napster and its kin have been declared illegal; blogging and hyperlinks have done something different in media.

He then takes a more general look at the micropayments model. He says part of the problem is that the various micropayments models under discussion are entirely publisher-driven and don’t take the reader into account.

If that’s not enough for you, back in 2003, Shirky listed out the multitude of failed micropayment programs.

Read all four, not three, links I’ve provided, and accept that the mass-audience newspaper of today is probably doomed.

That all said, Shirky is light on prescriptions for the future.

And, as I blogged last week, online advertising is becoming the junk mail of the Internet world.

If various versions of charge-for-content aren’t going to work, and, with Shirky’s acknowledgement that the Gutenberg Revolution 2.0 will throw out lot of experimental models, at the least, I’d like to see Shirky throw out some ideas, and handicap some of the more promising models out there.

‘No religion’ on the rise

Since 1990, the percentage of Americans identifying themselves as having “no religion,” whatever that may mean for them, has increased in every state in the nation.

A fair chunk of that is the "spiritual but not religious" crowd, but some of it is downright agnosticism or atheism.

Obama: G20 split talk is ‘phony debate”

President Barack Obama was talking about the idea that there’s a split between the U.S. and much of the rest of the G20, over whether to engage in more theoretically stimulative government spending, or to focus on financial regulation.

Well, President Obama, you can prove this is a phony debate, and that you’re not too tired, by having a financial institutions regulatory bill sent up to Congress by no later than June 1. That would prove that re-regulation is as ‘front and center” as you say it is.

If any financier needs nationalizing, it’s AIG

Instead of having Timmy Geither beg, plead and wheedle with AIG not to pay out $165 million in bonuses, nationalize the damned company if Geithner believes the government doesn’t have the power to prohibit such bonuses.