April 25, 2009

Social Security traded for healthcare

It appears President Barack Obama’s neoliberalism may just have had a major surge.

Reportedly, in exchange for his healthcare reform policies getting the OK to get Senate consideration via the filibuster-free reconciliation process Oct. 15, if no bill gets reported out by then, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad gets the Presidential okey-dokey to tinker with Social Security.
“Would I want things? Yeah,” Conrad said.

Conrad and Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, have long pushed for creating a task force that would write policy prescriptions for the government’s long-term budget problems that Congress would have to vote on.

Now, this doesn’t spell out what Conrad wants besides “pay-go” provisions in some other areas, but he’s long been known to favor tinkering with Social Security.

IMF issue bonds instead of loans? Many implications

A VERY intriguing idea got pushed today at G20 financial ministers’ talks at International Monetary Fund headquarters in Washington, D.C.

And that’s for the IMF to issue bonds, not loans, to countries in need of international financial assistance. The four BRIC countries are the pushers, while the U.S. and Eurozone are fighting it. Indeed, it appears BRIC countries are balking at ponying up massive new monies for the IMF unless the West actually discusses this as an idea on the table.

The bonus is that bonds would probably reduce to some degree the power of the “austerity measures” stick that the IMF has used for decades against developing nations, which is precisely why the West is resisting.

Little Timmy Geithner at the U.S. Treasury may be the U.S. official on whom the repayment for all our years of Chinese borrowing starts falling due.

And, along that line, bonds instead of loans, I think, could be played with more, to go partway toward Beijing wanting a backup global reserve currency. That, too, is certainly why the US is cool to the idea for a second reason.

Bill Buckley, warts and all

Get a sneak preview of the new biography of the man Christopher Buckley called “Pup,” by that same son.

Among the tidbits: The über-Catholic once thought of offing himself rather than suffering through the last stages of emphysema.

Read the full article for more; you'll probably want to take a gander at the book after that.

Yoiks! No more beer coasters?

The world’s leading maker of traditional cardboard bar and pub beer coasters (in Germany, where else?) is going bankrupt.

Well, boo-hoo for Jay Bybee

One of Bush’s torture-condoning legal memo authors supposedly regrets it now.

Why should we believe this is anything more than legacy-polishing by an active federal judge?

For that matter, why should we believe this is even true?

Bybee tells this to old Office of Legal Counsel colleagues, in a private setting.

Then, carrying anonymity in journalism to ridiculously new levels, the Post lets two of Bybee’s friends tell us on background that he regrets the legal counsel he issued on torture.
“I’ve heard him express regret at the contents of the memo,” said a fellow legal scholar and longtime friend, who spoke on the condition of anonymity while offering remarks that might appear as “piling on.” “I’ve heard him express regret that the memo was misused. I’ve heard him express regret at the lack of context — of the enormous pressure and the enormous time pressure that he was under. And anyone would have regrets simply because of the notoriety.”

Sounds like the anonymous friend is tweaking the “ticking time bomb” excuse: “But Bybee had to render a decision, or Khalid Sheik Muhammad would blow us all up!”

Puhleeze.

Jay Bybee, if you really wanted to show your regret, you’d resign from the bench.

April 24, 2009

Scat cat stabbed in drunken mood

Even if this were a more “routine” story, a news story about a cat named Scat would get to be the Friday scatblogging post on name alone.

But the story has more than that.

First, it’s a therapy cat. Now, while I believe pets can help people calm their emotions, I also believe an unconditionally-loving dog would be better for that than a cat.

Second, a cat “initially leery of people” probably wouldn’t be the best therapy cat, anyway.

Third, the combination of the first two lines of thought shows just how much “projection” is involved with people’s relations to their pets.

Do dogs, or maybe even cats, have emotions? Sure. But, are they of anywhere near the complexity of human ones? Absolutely not.

Dogs don’t have guilt feelings, for example.

Finally, there’s this: Animal rescue group Pasado's Safe Haven has offered to pay all of the cat’s vet bills, now at $300 and counting.

This is a 10-year-old cat taken in as a stray. At a church that appears to serve homeless, addicts, etc., and which, religious institution or not, could use $300 for programs more than for an old cat.

The truth about Somali pirates

Far from being al-Qaeda influenced radicals, they’re poor fishermen “piratized” by international fishing fleets, among other things.

They want money, not jihad, notes John Feffer, who notes the same things I do about their strong similarity to the Barbary pirates of 200 years ago, also secularists after money — this time, after being “piratized” out of European trade markets.

Feffer rightly worries that this could be the wedge to try extending U.S. imperialism in the horn of Africa again. He also worries that this will be a wedge for the military-industrial complex to ramp up its greed, this time for the crappy, problem-burdened (what modern American military hardware hasn’t been “burdened”?)

And, Obama’s defense budget has a 4 percent increase. No starving the beast by him.

Ellis County rabble-rouser stirs up south suburban Dallas

While there were many fine, upstanding residents of Cedar Hill and various Ellis County cities at the special hearing on Loop 9 in Cedar Hill April 23, there was more than a small scattering of people bringing some baggage to the event.

Let me put it this way.

When you get the normally mild-mannered, low-key Cedar Hill Mayor Rob Franke so riled up he shows his anger to you, and tells you that you need to learn some respect ...

If you know Rob, you know you've crossed a line. If you don't, you need to learn.

Other than that, we had, in my guesstimate, about two dozen of the 225 or so attendees who stayed for much of the Texas Department of Transporation presentation who regularly talked over TxDOT representatives attempts to answer their questions.

We had other people broaching conspiracy theories, like the person who got Franke upset in part by claiming local officials were nothing but "moles," or pawns under the control of the North Central Texas Council of Governments.

So "congratulations" to the Ellis Countian now in New Hampshire, Joey Dauben, for stirring up some of these people.

And all for a road that, as Cedar Hill ISD Boardmember Valerie Banks noted, won't be built for several years. (If it's built at all.)

As for the Trans Texas Corridor tie-in, it's true that TxDOT still has TTC -style concepts for some local toll roads. But, Loop 9, as one of those toll roads, was proposed long before the TTC was around. And, given that Loop 9 is, in essence, the southern parallel to the Bush Turnpike, if it is built, and built as a toll road, it could well be run by the North Texas Tollway Authority, if anybody.

If you want a better target for your anger, tell Gov. Perry and the Lege to stop diverting gas tax money to the general fund. And tell both of them to do more with long-term bond indebtedness rather than toll roads.


That said, it was interesting to see Dallas County Judge Jim Foster in south suburban Dallas in the flesh for pretty much the first time since he got elected.

Try us, you might like us, judge.

It was just as interesting, if not more so, to see him and his nemesis, County Commissioner John Wiley Price, at the same table.

(Note: Original post corrected here, to reflect that Giddings was NOT at meeting. Between being far enough away from the front, and a bit nearsighted, I made a mistake.)

Speaking of that, I've asked Dauben on several of his blogs (which are not going to get linked here) if he wouldn't like to own up to any mistakes in any of his coverage, or "angles" he has, and so far, the sound has been...

Crickets! (No surprise there, though. And that's why none of his blogs are being linked here.)

Big CO2 industries caught in outright lie

At the same time members of the Global Climate Coalition were denying anthropogenic global warming, for public consumption, internally, their own in-house scientists were admitting nearly 15 years ago the possibility was real, scientifically grounded, and potentially serious:
“The scientific basis for the Greenhouse Effect and the potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 on climate is well established and cannot be denied,” the experts wrote in an internal report compiled for the coalition in 1995.

Just like Big Tobacco on suppressing scientific evidence. The global-warming denialists of industry have long been compared to Philip Morris, but now we realize just how apt that is, with the smoking gun smokestack and exhaust pipe now visible.

April 23, 2009

Fiat PLUS bankruptcy for Chrysler

Looks like that’s the bottom line.

And it makes sense. Fiat will find it easier to restructure Chrysler with the bankruptcy stick in hand.

Also, a Chrysler “structured” bankruptcy becomes, to put it bluntly, a test tube for a similar bankruptcy at GM.

Team Obama distancing from Waxman-Markey climate bill?

So it would seem, with the equivalent of a “my dog ate my homework” reason for why the Obama Administration still hasn’t endorsed the Waxman-Markey bill. Still studying details on a 648-page bill isn’t much excuse when the bill came out last month.

Now, the bill has its flaws, to be sure. I wouldn’t give away ANY cap permits myself; all would be sold. It’s not clear on how utilities, etc. would be regulated to keep them from gouging customers.

And not using carbon taxes at all is bad policy.

But, it’s a good starting point, nonetheless.

Creationist stupidity extends to lawsuits?

So it would seem, per this Grad-A analytical dismantling of the Institute for Creation Research’s lawsuit against the state of Texas’ Higher Education Coordination Board.

Actually, you don’t have to imagine it, because it’s true. Read the story.

Spain will drop case against BushCo torture enablers…

IF, IF, IF the Barack Obama Department of Justice will open an official investigation.

That’s one of several interesting items on the torture issue offered by Scott Horton. He also tells us AG Eric Holder and top staff are irate at how White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel et al (presumably acting on “higher orders,” irony, hypocrisy both intended) so politicized this issue.

Geithner still trying to spread the debt

And, EU member states keep saying no. Even if Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is right that the rest of the world needs more classical Keynesian economics, he’s not going to get it until the EU sees more work on financial regulation issues.

The EU is not a bunch of clueless Obamiacs, nor in the bag for Goldman Sachs.

On the other hand, the International Monetary Fund claims EU states are behind the U.S. in cleaning up bank asset pages.

On the third hands, the story doesn’t say what standard the IMF used to render that decision. Was it Geithner’s sieve-like “stress tests”?

April 22, 2009

Madame Waterboarder and liar

Sounds like BushCo National Security Advisor and Secretary of State Condi Rice told a past Congress some lies of omission about her role in waterboarding.

Some fresh air for the Best Southwest?

How much will the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed cuts in mercury emissions from cement kilns affect TXI and other Midlothian (Texas) cement-makers, and by extension, air quality in Cedar Hill and other southern Dallas suburbs?

It’s to be hoped that the new regs not only reduce mercury emissions, but produce better accountability from TXI et al in tracking just how much they do emit.

Happy Earth Day!

British Columbia ground zero for CO2 environmentalism

British Columbia’s provincial parliamentary elections are getting worldwide attention due to their focus on a carbon tax to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

The real twist is that B.C.’s Conservatives support this, and the New Democratic Party, Canada’s liberal party (the Liberals are actually akin to U.S. neoliberals) oppose the carbon tax, for what the NDP claims is high-minded reasons, but appears to be election pandering to the pocketbooks of BC voters.

Since, if the Conservatives stay in power, BC will definitely be ground zero on a carbon tax, it’s good to clean up some myths about such a tax, including that it’s not a gas tax and isn’t designed to be consumer-punitive.

Why not a carbon-emission cap-and-trade program, like the European Union already has in place and the U.S. is talking about? Because the EU one doesn’t work, and, so far, member states have not taken the initiative to set permit prices high enough to make it work.

While you’re not prosecuting the CIA, Pres. Obama ...

How about telling the Spook Shack to cough up some of the three dozen people it has black-holed?

Kay Bailey Cheerleader going Chicken Little on Austin again?

In an article in The Hill, where John Cornyn discusses how difficult it could be to hold the Democratic Party to under 60 Senate seats in 2010 (do you think?), reporters Aaron Blake and Reid Wilson say the latest info is that Kay Bailey Hutchison will stay in her Senate seat rather than challenge Gov. Rick Perry for the GOP nomination.

Why is this not surprising? Time after time, KBH has shown herself to be an ovary-lacking “trimmer.”

WTO to get environmental and moral trade test

The European Union is moving closer to a ban on importing seal products.

The ban isn’t so much environmental as moral, over concerns about Norway’s, and even more Canada’s, allowed methods of seal hunting. Canada has already said it will appeal a EU ban to the World Trade Organization; Norway has now said it will do the same.

Unless the EU can show environmental cause, I think it’s got little chance of winning this.

Dems ready to give insurers big break

You know how, on things such as environmental regulation, prescription drug regulation, etc., over the past decade-plus, the Congressional GOP has shown how it can throw its states-rights mantra in the Dumpster at a moment’s notice, if having laxer federal regulation will legally trump and pre-empt tougher state laws?

Well now, in the case of the insurance industry, Congressional Democrats are ready and willing to play the same game.

The idea of simplicity in regulation is a legitimately attractive one, I’ll not argue that. But, the idea of using that idea to water down regulation, rather than toughening it — especially when an insurance company, AIG, is at the heart of the current financial sector clusterfuck — is simply ridiculous.

If not horrific.

Let’s look at the recent salmonella crisis in peanuts.

The federal government had nowhere near enough agents hired to do a proper regulatory job. So, it co-opted state departments of agriculture. But, many of them were understaffed, undertrained or both.

And, as with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner’s “stress tests” for banks, smaller companies worry that this is something else being done at the behest of big boys.

And, given campaign finance issues — President Opt-Out, Barack Obama, took $2.2 mil from insurers last year, and many Congressional Dems took big insurance bucks, too — this bill will get traction.

Vote Green!

Obama torture apologetics logic undercut

Mark Benjamin succinctly makes the case, based on the details of the just-released Senate Armed Services Committee special report (PDF), that the CIA was engaging in at least “torture lite” BEFORE the Department of Justice’s Bybee-Yoo-Bradbury lawyers’ troika issued what is clearly an ex post facto green light in August 2002.
The Justice Department opinion condoning abusive interrogations did not come out until August, eight months after the Bush administration started putting the program together and presumably well after Zubaydah's torture had begun.

In fact, as Mike Madden notes, the Senate report shows in detail what has already been known, that by the end of 2001, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was pushing for at least “torture light” if not more.

Oh, and in yet another tie-back to Obama, let’s not forget that this all started, NOT at Gitmo, NOT at Abu Ghraib, but at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, the place Obama wants to expand.

It’s going to be a long 45 months. Because you and I will not change the Obama Administration. You can sign 500 petitions, and they will not change Barack Obama.

And, I will refuse to sign any more petitions to Obama anybody else asks me to sign until they pledge to support third-party politics.

April 21, 2009

Obama and Israel pander alert? Or, more ‘presidentialism’?

Federal prosecutors are looking at dropping spying charges against two former pro-Israel lobbyists who worked for American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harmon is journalistically accused of alleging she would go to bat legally for the two. Even if Justice’s decision to drop the charges, should it do that, is unconnected with l’affaire Harmon, it’s bad, bad timing anyway. Not just domestically, but abroad.

The story doesn’t directly say why charges might be dropped, but leaves a huge hint about halfway down the first page:
Defense lawyers recently again subpoenaed a number of prominent former government officials who are expected to testify for the defense. They include former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, former national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley and former high-level Defense Department officials Paul D. Wolfowitz and Douglas J. Feith. Sources said defense lawyers recently interviewed several of these former officials.

It’s called “presidentialism.” The decision to drop this baby isn’t even AG Eric Holder’s alone to make.

Did Geithner rig bank ‘stress tests’?

It’s hard to argue otherwise on Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner’s “stress test” for bank solvency, outstanding loans are getting dinged harder than securities, such as the infamous collateralized debt swaps.
The methodology "certainly penalizes those banks that are more involved in traditional banking, which frankly have been performing better in recent months," said Wayne Abernathy, a former Treasury Department official now with the American Bankers Association.

He said banks' loan portfolios have lost only about 5 percent of their value so far, whereas the value of complex securities are down 30 to 40 percent.

A spokesman for the Federal Reserve would not comment. A Treasury Department spokesman referred questions to the Fed.

Meanwhile, even as evidence of fraud in TARP/TARP 2.0 piles up, with more than 20 criminal probes already launched by special investigator general Neil Barofsky into possible securities fraud, tax violations, insider trading and other crimes, little Timmy G. continues to tout his program.

Given that much of Congress, on both sides of the aisle, is so in the tank for the financial sector, or so ostrich-like, that it needs Barry Bonds’ orchidometer to measure its minuscule cojones, don’t expect anything to change.

Nationalized banks wouldn’t be fraud cesspools

Something for Treasury Secretary Kenny G., I mean Timmy Geithner, to think about, with more than 20 criminal probes already launched by special investigator general Neil Barofsky into possible securities fraud, tax violations, insider trading and other crimes.

But no, the Geithner-Summers-Obama troika will “torture” taxpayers at the expense of Goldman Sachs, et al.

Team Obama won’t even use word ‘torture’

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs et al in Team Obama treat the very word “torture” itself like it’s political dynamite.

But yet, don’t want to prosecute, or even investigate for possible prosecution, torture, torture green-lighting, etc.

The GOP cares about patients? Not

Sen. Jon Kyl, in opposing Kathleen Sibelius’ nomination to be Health and Human Services Secretary, during Senate Finance Committee hearings (more on that in a second) tried to pose a as a defender of medical patients’ well-being.

Minority Whip Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., cited Sibelius’ written responses to his questions about “comparative effectiveness research” as his reason for voting no.

Comparative effectiveness research is part of empirical, outcomes-based medicine, used by the federal government to compare medical treatments in part as a cost-savings measure. Kyl and other pseudo-populist wingers claim it could be used to ration healthcare.

More’s the pity. If Obama would defund the Office of Complementary Medicine, he would be doing something.

On the hearings’ locus, why is the Senate Finance Committee the venue for approving an HHS nominee, rather than Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee? That’s a bipartisan clusterfuck.

Will the real White House torture policy please stand up?

President Barack Obama is feeling more political pressure to reverse Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel’s pronouncements and legally investigate the BushCo enablers of torture, if not the actual doers of the deed.

But, “legal sanctions”? Is this like Bill Clinton being disbarred from practicing law before the Supreme Court? Puhleeze.

At the same time, according to Talking Points Memo, the White House has apparently walked back Rahmbo’s original comments on the issue:
(A)dministration officials said Monday that Mr. Emanuel had meant the officials who ordered the policies carried out, not the lawyers who provided the legal rationale.

I say “apparently” in light of the legal sanctions idea also mentioned in the story.

Meanwhile, from Bizarro World, Uncle Fester, aka Darth Cheney, says that if Obama’s going to release some CIA torture memos, release them all.

Well, when an idiot goes “all in” at the poker table, take his money. Uncle Fester thinks, as he always has, that torture provides actionable intelligence and the rest of the memos will show that.

Releasing all memos, in context, with analysis showing just how little torture found? Done.

Meanwhile, Mike Madden offers his take on Obama’s spinning, and operatives’ greeting for him, at Langley.

And, in a related matter, Jake Tapper channels ABC reporters trying to nail down the Jell-O of White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs on the Big O’s love for state secrets in court.

Meanwhile, Gibbs et al in Team Obama treat the very word “torture” itself like it’s political dynamite.

April 20, 2009

Chrysler Financial refused bailout bucks over exec pay

That’s right, the financing arm of about-to-go-bankrupt Chrysler turned down federal loan money to continue overpaying the same officials that have ground them into impending bankruptcy in the first place.

Yes, technically, it’s separate from the carmaker, but it’s the same idiots, at bottom line.

I’m guessing that Fiat might demand concessions there, as well as wages of line-level employees if Chrysler Financial is part of the acquisition.

Creationists sue Texas after being ruled stupid

Well, that header is my definite thumbnail version.

Longer version? The Institute for Creation Research is suing the state of Texas after the Higher Education Coordinating Board denied it the right to offer graduate science degrees last year, saying its academics weren’t up to snuff.

I love people who are ignorant, often willfully so, of science, when they talk about evolution being “just a theory,” per some of the people commenting on the Morning News story.

Isaac Newton developed a “theory” of gravitation. I cordially invite you all to see if it’s “just a theory” by walking off the top of the TXU building here in downtown Dallas.

I’ll even give you a posthumous Darwin Award for the courage of your convictions.

Healthcare – GOP stalling vs. Democratic disarray

So, can Democrats have a reasonable degree of cohesion in working with Republicans on healthcare reform (please don’t call it national healthcare)?

That’s ignoring the real question of what Obama will do when his “down payment” on healthcare proves to be exactly that, and he’s asked to pay up on…

To use a subprime lending analogy…

The balloon note to really do national heathcare.

Anyway, mandates, or not? What type of mandates? Government-run insurance as an option?

Meanwhile, will the GOP offer anything, or just run the clock?

In the House, especially, I’d lean toward the latter.

As for my other rhetorical questions, I am interested in what Obama will propose on the “balloon note” in, say, summer 2012, during campaign season.

Obama talk meets reality on government ‘efficiency’

After touting how much he could save on government spending during the campaign last year, President Barack Obama is now facing reality, to the tune of just $100 million, not the unspecified “billions” he hinted at six-nine months ago.

And, he’s giving government agencies 90 days to come up with even just this pittance.

Neoliberalism hoist by its own petard.

Meanwhile, Robert Reich has some real ideas for Obam on spending cuts, even if he thinks some of them should wait for a healthier economy.

Obama institutionalizes torture

Only a few thousand other bloggers have pointed out exactly this as the bottom line of President Barack Obama’s official refusal to prosecute the Bush Adminstration’s architects of torture.

Treaties ratified by our government spell out what torture is, and these people authored “legal” documents for CIA agents, along with abetting psychologists and others, to break the law.

As for those people, we rejected “just following order” at Nuremburg 1946.

Oh, I’m sorry, though, this is American exceptionalism, though.

Vote Green. Or Socialist.

Do NOT re-elect Barack Obama.

Dallas Morning News "reinvents" itself again

The latest "reinvention"? Investigative journalism, per the half-page house ad in Sunday "Points." So, was DMN not doing that before? That's almost what the ad implied.

April 19, 2009

Tom Ricks – Close West Point

Coming from the dean of American newspapers’ war correspondents, the call to close U.S. military academies isn’t a shot in the dark.

Ricks says it takes twice as much to educate an officer at one of the military academies rather than through ROTC, and that – ROTC grads make better officers and get better educations.

Read the full story for more of Ricks’ thinking.

I think he’s on to something. It’s far short of a draft, but relying on just ROTC officers might connect the military with the outside world more.

NYT – Obama needs to investigate torture

In an official editorial, the Old Gray Lady salutes President Barack Obama’s release of the four CIA torture memos last week, but says that’s not nearly enough – Obama needs to start investigating:
He has an obligation to pursue what is clear evidence of a government policy sanctioning the torture and abuse of prisoners — in violation of international law and the Constitution. …

These memos make it clear that (federal appeals judge Jay). Bybee is unfit for a job that requires legal judgment and a respect for the Constitution. Congress should impeach him. And if the administration will not conduct a thorough investigation of these issues, then Congress has a constitutional duty to hold the executive branch accountable. If that means putting Donald Rumsfeld and Alberto Gonzales on the stand, even Dick Cheney, we are sure Americans can handle it.

After eight years without transparency or accountability, Mr. Obama promised the American people both. His decision to release these memos was another sign of his commitment to transparency. We are waiting to see an equal commitment to accountability.

Holy crap, what sort of Wheaties did the Times eat?

King Tut great; tschotchkes not

I went to the King Tut exhibit here at the Dallas Museum of Art Saturday. Had been holding off until my one brother came here on business.

Egypt doesn’t let Tut’s funerary mask, the solid gold baby, out of the country anymore. But, there was plenty of stuff to see otherwise.

That said, my brother has been to Egypt and bought related trinkets there. At the DMA’s special gift shop for the event, being run by the company putting on the Tut extravaganza at various sites around the world?

Not much Egyptian-made.

Plenty of Egyptian-themed crapola, though, moderately to highly overpriced in many cases, and…

Either labeled as “made in China” or with no country of origin label (in which case I always assume Chinese creation).

Rick Perry, socialist

Gail Collins catches Gov. Helmethair, aka Lil Ricky Perry, in a miasma of hypocrisy — federal financial support to cotton farmers, pretty much the worst this side of dairy farmers.