SocraticGadfly: 11/1/09 - 11/8/09

November 07, 2009

Treasury says no to Sachs

What? Refusing to give Goldman Sachs cut rate at the government hog trough? Is the apocalypse nigh?

Malcolm Gladwell, deconstructed

The Nation has an in-depth explainer of how, if you feel like you’re eating cotton candy when you read Gladwell, you actually are!

The Nation still rides the Obama pony

It’s kind of sad for Publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel to still talk about Barack Obama as a progressive president. Coming from someone theoretically that well informed, I’d have to call that a conscious, deliberate lie of some sort. That’s doubly true since she next lists all the disappointments of his administration, like lack of financial reform and banking sellouts, etc.

Facebook fun and games is big bucks

Only, you don’t get a cut. Beyond your privacy, and often that of your friends, being infringed by various Facebook game apps, what’s ultimately happening is you’re setting yourself up to be the target of a shitload of spam advertising, whether via e-mail, on Facebook pages or elsewhere.

The maker of Farmville and Mafia Wars gets $200 million a year, much of it from cyber-advertisers wanting player information, for example.

And Facebook, which could do more, turns a blind eye. (There’s plenty of additional links off this page.)

Beyond that, the nature of many of the games?

Do you really want to learn about being a cyber-chef at an artificial restaurant when, the way the economy is going, you could be forced to be the real thing at Denny’s, getting customers with bitchy orders, if you’re the fry cook, or ones stiffing you on tips if you’re waiting tables? Or do you want a farm without cow shit smells, or genetically modified corn putting you on the hook to Monsanto?

November 06, 2009

No Zelaya in Honduran power – whose fault?

Well, it looks like former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya won’t be sharing any power for a final few months, until the country’s new government, to be chosen Nov. 29, takes power.

I’d assign blame about 50-50 between him and the Honduran Congress. That said, will the “international community” live up to threats and blacklist the next government?

So much for ‘high-unemployment old Europe’

Can we finally put this hypercapitalist rightist American myth to rest? Here’s the reality: Topping things off, “hard to fire people” German is two percentage points lower in unemployment than the US. The UK is also lower; France is even.

Beyond that, this is comparing apples to oranges, in several ways.

First, European countries don't calculate unemployment the same way the US does. I don't know about today, but, a decade ago, Germany counted you as unemployed if you were working for a temp agency, even if it was full-time work. (At that time, Manpower was the single largest employer in both the US and the Federal Republic, since you work for the temp agency, not the company with which it is contracting.)

Second, due to the amount of people the US incarcerates for drug crimes, and the amount of people it pays to arrest them, try them, keep them incarcerated, etc., we'd have even higher unemployment without our draconian drug laws.

Third, many European countries have "universal service" upon graduation from high school, or the equivalent thereof. This is military service for many who do not conscientiously object, etc. It doesn't count as employment. In the US, with its professional army, though (please, not "all volunteer," its "professional") the men and women in uniform count as employed. Right now, if we weren't fighting multiple wars in a recession, we'd have even more unemployment.

So, actually, it's not that unemployment in "old Europe" is the same or a bit lower than here; if you compare apples and apples, it's probably a lot lower than in the high-unemployment USofA.

The US unemployment rate hitting 10.2 percent underscores this even more.

November 05, 2009

Apparently the GOP DOES favor stimulus measures

An extension of unemployment benefits, and a home-buyer tax credit, both in the original Obama stimulus package but set to expire, were approved with near unanimity by both houses of Congress.

The vote? It was 403-12 in the House and 90-0 in the Senate.

On a similar note, I guess Blue Dog Democrats aren't so worried about deficit spending.

Good news for Texas air

Al Armendariz, the Southern Methodist University engineering professor who has been highly critical of the Texas Commmission on Environmental Quality's battles against smog in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, Midlothian cement kiln pollution and other things, is the new Environmental Protection Agency Region 6 administrator. Merry Christmas, Rick Perry!

No Copenhagen climate treaty this year?

British Climate Secretary Ed Miliband says expect only a political deal, not an actual treaty.

No real surprise there. And, contra warnings from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Denmark's Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen and US chief climate negotiator Todd Stern that only a "politically binding" agreement can now be achieved, I wouldn't even hold my breath on that, especially given that Mr. Stern's boss is unlikely to see, or motivate, the Senate passing a climate-control bill.

Some EU delegates blame legal complexities, but at least one developing-nation representative rejects that. Says South Africa's Alf Wills, who co-ordinates the G77/China bloc of developing countries on extending the Kyoto Protocol,:
"China has published a five-year plan, India has published proposals, as has Brazil - and a few weeks ago Indonesia said it would cut the rate of growth of emissions by 40%, doing 26% of that by itself (without outside aid)."

Read the full story for more analysis.

More 2009 elections post-mortem

First, should Democrats worry? Well, besides independents breaking GOP, which quaisi-Democratic bloggers try to write off as “conventional wisdom” or whatever, per Larry Sabato, there’s the matter of horrendous turnout, at least in Virginia. (That said, Sabato partially localizes that.)

The economy per Larry Sabato, and, how will Democrats deal with it next year? Second stimulus? I look at the 1982 midterms and House GOP losses, wondering if Democrats are doing that too. For Blue Dog Dems, it means deficits-vs-unemployment worries; will they be hypocritical enough to blandly worry about the deficit, after many of them approved many Bush-era deficit spending bills, or will they actually explain the need for more unemployment and economic help?

Regardless of his political views in general, Michael Barone may be right that union issues took a hit.

On the lighter side, Gail Collins pokes fun at Republicans trying to nationalize local elections.

Toyota just refuses to get it

Whether or not it has vehicular sudden acceleration defects, the perception is it does. For Toyota to claim it doesn’t, as part of a recall, to the point of getting an official federal slapdown makes me wonder if it’s not as bad as some more arrogant American-based companies.

GM, Opel and bailouts

As you can see on the right, I still have up my poll on when GM will get out of bankruptcy. And, by that, I don’t mean a judge’s ruling on paper. I mean, when will the government no longer own part of it.

Well, GM’s reneging on its sale of Euro subsidiary Opel to Canadian parts maker Magna puts a whole new kink in that.

Germany insists it wants back all the purchase assistance money it gave GM. What if GM doesn’t have it? Will it ask for more U.S. money to help it keep running Opel?

And, does anybody at GM have a finance degree?

Germany extended $2.2 billion in bridge financing for the Magna sale. GM says it will cost more than $4.4 billion to restructure Opel itself. So, not only did it kick the Federal Republic in the teeth, it’s theoretically on the hook for twice that much money.

Why would anybody buy GM stock?

Yes, new GM cars here in the US are built on Opel platforms, but GM would have kept a minority stake in the company with the deal.

This is ludicrous. Why either Germany OR the US should now trust GM is of serious doubt. But, if Fritz Henderson pleads for some more Obamabucks, he will probably get them.

Hey, pseudo-liberal Obamiacs – stop the MSM-bashing

I love all the dyed-in-the-wool Democrats seeing a “horse race” line coming out of the so-called mainstream media, or MSM, about how Tuesday’s election was a “referendum” on Obama that he lost due to the New Jersey and Virginia governor’s races.

The truth? Not quite that.

Here, the New York Times, the old gray lady of the mainstream media, reports in detail on Republican party angst after an intra-party split cost it the NY-23 Congressional seat. Tim Pawlenty and Mike Huckabee are quoted chiding fellow Republicans not to go to such a state again. Others comment as well.

Here, Politico, about as MSM as you can get in “new media,” being founded by Washington Post expats, interviews S.C. Sen. Lindsey Graham, warning his party not to move too far right for more such details.

Or, like Glenn Greenwald, why don’t you Obamiacs look at a race Obama may well have cost his party by being a no-show, namely, his refusal to campaign against New York City’s authoritarian plutocrat mayor?

Besides, you need to get at the back of the line, behind third-party supporters, for real rights to MSM bashing.

If the MSM is missing an angle, it’s not talking more about the two-party duopoly’s stranglehold on state and federal election laws. With Chris Daggett in New Jersey’s gubernatorial race and Hoffman, the Conservative Party candidate in NY-23, this was an ideal opportunity.

For that matter, what about the op-ed pages? Why isn’t the NYT editorializing for nationwide public financing of Congressional campaigns, including for third-party candidates? Here in Texas, why aren’t major papers calling on the Legislature to undo onerous third-party ballot access laws?

Or, gay rights activists. You have room to complain. The “Bradley effect,” after the late former Los Angeles mayor, Tom Bradley, is supposedly when polls report an assured black candidates win, but the actual vote is much closer, or he or she even loses. After the win of Prop 1, there, overturning the Maine Legislature’s gay-marriage bill, you have to wonder if the same applies on gay-rights initiatives, with people saying they’ll vote to support gay rights, then turning around and voting against.

November 04, 2009

CIA: Guilty in Italy

An Italian court has convicted 23 CIA agents and others over an illegal rendition kidnapping. The CIA response? Straight from the pages of Uncle Fester, Dick Cheney. From one of those convicted:
(Former Milan CIA station chief Robert) Lady has since retired and whose whereabouts are unknown. In the interview, he said of Abu Omar’s abduction, “Of course it was an illegal operation. But that’s our job. We’re at war against terrorism.”

I repeat, to people who make this facile claim, read, “A Man for All Seasons.” When you eliminate the rule of law for others, what protects you?

An Afghan surge with mercenaries?

Per Tom Friedman’s column, wouldn’t that be the ultimate shotgun wedding of war hawkery and neoliberalism?

And, it wouldn’t totally surprise me, either.

November 03, 2009

1989, and successful and failed revolutions

Ed Cohen compares and contrasts the fall of communism in Eastern Europe 20 years ago with its post-Tiananmen strengthening in China, while wondering, in the long term, which way things will play out in Iran.

Dump Orrin Hatch alt-med national healthcare

Utah’s senior senator, perhaps the Senate’s No. 1 backer of alt-medical “treatment,” snuck a deal in Senate HELP Committee’s national healthcare bill to pay for Christian Science prayer treatments and such. It doesn’t mention the church by name, but the rider forbids discrimination against “spiritual medicine.”

Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), whose district includes a Christian Science school, Principia College, introduced a similar measure in the House.

So, theoretically, this could include what? Scientology engram reading? New Age sweat lodges?

Half of kids will be on food stamps

Yes, sometime before turning 18, half, half of today’s kids will be on food stamps if you have a delinquent mortgage.

Goldman Sachs, friendly neighborhood repo man

G. Sachs, on top of all its bailout money, its being enabled to play fast and loose again with investment risks by Team Obama, etc., also be the company wanting your home if you have a delinquent mortgage.

Worse yet, it’s too chickenshit to be up front about this, so it hides behind shell companies.

November 02, 2009

How does West Texas feel about Chinese-made wind power?

Will various winger conspiratists in west Texas get up in arms about this?

Who’s killing the nuclear inspections scientists?

After the second suspicious death in a year at International Atomic Energy Agency headquarters in Vienna, it’s a question that might need asking.

NYT clueless about Fox

John Harwood claims that the audiences at other news channels have tilted as sharply as Fox. That is surely true, but, audiences aren’t producers or programming. The viewers are leaving Fox because there’s nothing there for them if they’re not wingers; it’s not that CNN or, with partial exception, MSNBC, has retooled its programming.

Douthat half-right on third parties

He’s quite right to note their effect in the New Jersey governor’s race and the NY-23 Congressional special election, and to call for more of the same tonic. He’s quite wrong to belittle third-party presidential candidates as too narrowly focused, and hypocritical for using the argument for third-party Congressional and state-level candidates against presidential ones.

Next battle: selling healthcare reform’s benefits

Assuming Congress passes some sort of healthcare bill, E.J. Dionne is right: Next comes the battle over selling its benefits. That said, both of the major parties will tell whoppers. The GOP will call it socialism, while Dems will make absurd claims for any emasculated “public option” that might be in the final bill.

November 01, 2009

Newspaper columnist too dumb to know who pays his bills

A columnist for Long Island’s daily newspaper, Newsday, has quit. Why? The newspaper is putting up a paywall on his website.

Great, not only are there freeloaders outside the newspaper office, they have aiders and abetters inside.

Goodbye, Saul Friedman.

Three other comments.

One, don’t flatter yourself about how many people around the country read you.

Two, if they actually did, whether in hardcopy or on their cities’ newspaper websites, they could ask to have you syndicated by the local paper.

Three, before the Internet, they were reading somebody else because they couldn’t read you anyway.

Now, that said, Newsday is owned by Cablevision, so, there is possible corporatized newspaper greed here. But, not necessarily. Did Friedman ask what operating profit Newsday has, not just overall, but specifically on online operations? (If it has any, when online is priced out separately.)

The latest Obama-Sachs Wall Street ‘socialism’

That “financial regulation reform bill” that’s supposedly starting to work its way through Congress? It ain’t such a thing at all. It would allow Tim Geithner or future Treasury Secretaries to make Hank Paulson look like a TARP piker.

Why? The new bill, which Rep. Brad Sherman called “TARP on steroids” would allow TARP-type bailouts with no Congressional approval and no maximum dollar amount.

As somebody else said, President Barack Obama is a socialist indeed — a Wall Street socialist.

Is post-peak America now here?

The perceptive Michael Klare, who writes on energy and national security issues for The Nation and elsewhere, argues that the greedy clusterfucks at Goldman Sachs, AIG, et al, leading to the economic crack-up that has the dollar in the crapper have brought 2025 15 years closer.

And, while the American public will have to deal with lesser American power, and the continued attempts by G. Sachs et al, and its bipartisan supporters to shit on them, ultimately, G. Sachs won’t come out on the high side either.

Of the four BRIC countries of Brazil, China, India and Russia, the Chinese dictatorship and the cult of Putin have no room for Sachs. Neither do the Russian Mafia. Brazil, as a Latin American nation, will retain its skepticism of American banks. India likely will have at least some of that.

And, the EU, with a Eurozone larger than the U.S. and dedicated to tougher regulatory reform, will be no homeland for it either.

So, way to go, greedy American financial clusterfucks — you pulled your own house down on your own head.

Coal not best way to cut CO2 by capture

Rather, because it tends to have a “purer” stream of carbon dioxide emissions, not only natural gas refining, but even oil refining is a better place to look for carbon capture. If this shouldn’t sound the death knell for building more coal-fired electric power plants, what will?

The GOP Stalinists

Frank Rich has a very good column on the NY-23 Congressional special election and how, win or lose for Hoffman, it’s bad news for the future of the GOP. Without being 100 percent hopeful this exiles the GOP further to the wilderness, and without totally wanting that in this way (in part, because it means more and more moderate Democrats), he’s got some good points.

The newspaper glass is half full

Despite reports of ongoing circulation and profit declines, thoughtful conservative Kathleen Parker says it’s possible to look on the bright side without being Pollyanna.