January 30, 2010

Obama's 'green jobs' push takes another hit

Another "giant sucking sound," to riff on Ross Perot, as China is now the world's largest maker of wind turbines.
“Most of the energy equipment will carry a brass plate, ‘Made in China,’ ” said K. K. Chan, the chief executive of Nature Elements Capital, a private equity fund in Beijing that focuses on renewable energy.

That said, the story notes that China now has the world's largest electric power market and also its fastest growing. So, much of that increase in manufacturing will be for domestic use, but Obama's "green jobs" could be short-term construction/installation of turbines as much as building them.

That said, a lot of turbines aren't yet on China's electric grid, which appears to still be less efficient than ours. Speaking of such things, unless Beijing threatens to shoot shoddy manufacturers, made-in-China turbines may not be so great after all.

Also, China has the grandest plans for wind power. That said, at least Beijing is buying solar panels from the U.S, at least for now.

More evidence for prions as mad-cow disease cause

Scientists have created the first lab-engineered prion to cause brain wasting.

Distinguishing Republicans and Democrats at a glance

No, really. Apparently, it can be done, says Scientific American, reporting on a PLoS study.

Phthalates, guilty again?

This time, the chemicals - and only versions from fragrances, cosmetics and similar items - appear linked to ADD and other child behavior problems.

David Brooks yearns for Ross Perot

Brooks, though, as is often the case, in his lust-crush for a new Perot to arise, doesn't let facts get in the way.

Namely, while excoriating Democrats for rejecting budget cuts and the GOP for rejecting tax increases, he conveniently forgets ...

That Perot himself never proposed a tax increase to narrow the deficit.

That the solutions Perot did propose were largely simplistic.

Etc., etc.

January 28, 2010

NYT: Old Obama, new packaging at SOTU

In a good news analysis, the New York Times notes some of the same things as in my critique last night, above all, that Obama presented little new. Not just the same, largely neoliberal and largely incremental, plans, but the same larger-level mindset behind them.

Obama STILL seems to think "bipartisanship" is achievable with this GOP Congress and that he's the person to achieve that.

That's a guarantee for an ongoing set of presidential failures.

Foreign policy and Obama's first SOTU

Juan Cole has a good analysis on what Obama left out and fact checking what he included.

Palin's Tea Party convo speech a flop a-waiting?

Not all the tickets to her Tea Party Convention speech have even sold out yet; no wonder some of her backers are telling her to withdraw.

Obama light years from Lincoln on assassinations

Glenn Greenwald, as part of a long column noting Obama is just as bad as Bush on OK-ing assassinations abroad of US citizens who are alleged terrorists, quotes the quite different first Illinois president:
The law of war does not allow proclaiming either an individual belonging to the hostile army, or a citizen, or a subject of the hostile government, an outlaw, who may be slain without trial by any captor, any more than the modern law of peace allows such intentional outlawry; on the contrary, it abhors such outrage. The sternest retaliation should follow the murder committed in consequence of such proclamation, made by whatever authority. Civilized nations look with horror upon offers of rewards for the assassination of enemies as relapses into barbarism.

Obama, we know Abraham Lincoln. Tis true that his views on black civil rights took much time to evolve, but evolve they did. Sorry, even disgusted, that your views on civil liberties today are only devolving.

My initial take on Obama's first SOTU

I caught bits and pieces on the office TV, and, of course, it's in our paper for tomorrow....

First, the "angry Obama."

Gail Collins (it's a shame she's the NYT's op-eds editor, if it in any way eats into the possibility of her doing more columns herself) notes, in seriousness and not in jest, that Obama doesn't "do" angry well.

Now, on to some specifics.

Liked his pledge to end Don't Ask, Don't Tell. I'll like it a whole lot more if he actually does it. (I still say no Congressional action is needed and that Obama can use an executive order, as Commander-in-Chief, just like Truman did to integrate the armed forces.)

Liked him calling out the Supremes over the Citizens United decision. Liked Alito being perturbed. Liked the hypocrisy being removed from the Court allegedly being non-political.

Disliked too much focus on education, especially when it's playing around the edges. It's called a 200-day school year, Obama, if you want real reform. It's called reshaping vocational education for the future. It's called driving down the cost of adult re-education.

Disliked the nickel-and-dime approach to high-speed rail, that I know of, and that's probably for many other programs. Dislike the politicization of high-speed rail nickel-and-dime approach with North Carolina. Don't tell me the Tar Heels got high-speed rail dinero and it has nothing to do with Obama wanting to win there again in 2012.

Disliked the Clintonesque length, too.

If you're going to give a 70-75 minute speech, ultimately, you have no laser-like focus, and you might as well be Thomas Jefferson and give Congress a written message.

At Salon, Joan Walsh gripes that too much of that over-lengthy rhetoric was borrowed from the GOP anyway.

January 27, 2010

RIP Howard Zinn

Good-bye to a man who told the truth about American histoyr.

The hubris of Obama — I can prevent 1994 vote meltdown repeat

Yes, Obama allegedly said that Congressional Democrats wouldn't face an electoral meltdown similar to the 1994 one because he was president.

One small part of me wishes I were in a "swing" congressional district and could vote GOP just to send The One an EFF YOU message.

China vs. U.S. to highlight Davos forum

No. 1 takeaway from this excellent news analysis? I think China has to revalue the renminbi to keep U.S. — and European — protectionism at bay.

Of the two, in the long term, Euro protectionism has to worry Beijing more, in reality. If the dollar fades more, the euro, not the renminbi, becomes a new reserve currency, and the E.U. will fight China on trade issues in a more consistently aggressive way than the U.S.

Also per the story, the E.U. will push harder on carbon tariffs than will the U.S. I wish it were pushing harder right now.

Anyway, look at the full story for upcoming global financial issues.

Will shareholders turn on 'too big to fail' banks?

At least, will they turn on the ones that put salaries above profits?

Seriously, how can the stock price of a Citigroup or Morgan Stanley be above 10 cents a share right now?

When will Obama fire Geithner?

As more and more details leak about how he handled various bailouts in the financial meltdown in 2008, above all the AIG bailout, the popular drumbeat for Tim Geithner's head should become ever louder.

If Obama were a real faux populist, he'd heed it. If he were to become a real populist, he'd heed it and make a good choice to replace Timmeh G.

Kay Bailey — I hate TTC, but I love toll roads!

That's why Kay Bailey Hutchison is soooo glad to take campaign money from The Zachry Group, and deny it to Tricky Ricky Perry.

While the Trans-Texas Corridor is the biggest problem, the push for toll roads in general is a big enough problem in Texas.

It's part of the GOP's ongoing process in this state of taxing people more and more all while hiding the taxes by calling them "service fees" and similar things. Toll roads in particular are also a mark of the disorganized fashion in which state government is run in Texas. If the Texas Department of Transportation were ever authorized for real multi-year budgeting, we wouldn't have any need for toll roads.

Well, that is, if the Lege would apply ALL of the gas tax to transportation.

KBH is a kinder, gentler, dishonest than Tricky Ricky.

Oh, and her anti-TTC ads? Beyond being deceitful, they're lame-o.

Lancaster, Texas, takes another economic blow

The Allen Group, the company that was going to develop a 6,000-acre set of warehousing facilities, to build on the two main rail lines and three interstates in the area, has just filed Chapter 11.

This was a case of overbuild anyway.

You have that ProLogis place already fairly built, plus the one on Hampton Road just north of DeSoto. And another one in development on the DeSoto side of I-35/Danieldale. AND, Alliance in Fort Worth, the already-existing warehousing and transportation hub, is only 40 percent built out.

Even without any of the John Wiley Price hassles The Allen Group had, it was a gamble.

Beyond that, I said that if oil stayed at $150/bbl, we wouldn't be importing so much stuff from China anyway.

And, beyond THAT, in an irony, or worse, Richard Allen says that a major potential future investor is ... China Supply and Logistics. Hell, what next — a Chinese company buying a share in Berkshire Hathaway, now that Buffett has purchased BNSF?

Further fallout? Between this and the general economy, Lancaster's airport expansion just got pushed back years.

January 26, 2010

Past decade warmest on record

Something else for the global warming deniers to ponder. The story also correctly notes that 2005, not 1998, is the warmest single year on record.

Your fat-cat Congressman ...

Might just be a Democrat, Roll Call notes. Yet another reason why financial "reform" probably won't be.

Toyota black eye grows, will affect economy

Toyota is halting sales of eight vehicle models covered by a recall for an sticking accelerator pedal problem until it can find a solution.

The result? The world's No. 1 (for now???) automaker is completely halting production at four North American plants and shutting down one line at another.

Toyota announced last week it was recalling 2.3 million Toyota cars and trucks due to accelerator pedals that could fail to spring back, raising the total number of Toyota models called back for possible uncontrolled acceleration to 4.8 million.

Toyota does not have a fix for the problem nor an estimate of when one will be available, hence teh manufacturing shutdown.

With the auto industry struggling for more traction after the expiration of Cash for Clunkers, this won't help Toyota nor a chain of auto parts suppliers.

Meanwhile, worries about how the Toyota quality issue might have fallout are spreading across Japanese manufacturing.

And, for Toyota to admit it doesn't yet have a fix? Boy, that's big.

Now, if you're a non-Toyota automaker, do you get aggressive with some new rebates or something to fill in the gap? I'm curious what Honda will do with some of its lines, and Ford with the new Focus.

Obama populism watch update

First, Robert Reich cogently puts out the anti-recovery argument against a spending freeze.

Second, Michael Lind notes the anti-populism, and further catering to Wall Street, of his signing off on the Gregg-Conrad bipartisan deficit cutting committee, even though Wall Street actually hadn't been asking for such a thing.

And, here's the biggie: Brad DeLong is calling him Herbert Hoover.

Bob Herbert goes back a little less far in presidential lore and invokes "credibility gap."

Obama told ABC he'd rather be a good one-term president than a bad two-term one. Well, right now, he's acting like he's going to be neither.

Why the NYT is right to be charging online

Steve Brill crunches all the numbers and says just $2 per month per unique visitor would pay fantastic returns.

Oh, The Big Money agrees.

Take THAT, Clay Shirky, Jay Rosen, and other people, like perhaps Bora, who think the online pay model is wrong. (And, maybe I overly stereotyped Mr. Rosen's views, in part as a deliberate caricature. I don't think I got them 100 percent wrong.)

Jay, you can diversify content all you want. But, any company that still relies on an advertising-only model to try to make money off that is run by schmucks.

Let's add to that. A Columbia Journalism Review story last year said that in a typical larger metro area (Baltimore was sampled in depth) the traditional newspaper still breaks 60 percent or more of the news. Next is TV, then radio. "New media"? Even in a halfway-techie area like Baltimore, it's still below 5 percent.

So, if you're still the primary purveyor, you have more incentive to charge, charge, charge.

Where media analysts of the "free Internet" stripe (and the more clueless old media moguls like Dean Singleton) miss the boat can best be illustrated by an analogy.

If Campbell's started selling its condensed soup in plstic screw-top bottles, while still selling in cans, and said it wouldn't charge for it because it could spit out soup much faster this way, we'd grab all the Campbell's we could while laughing at its stupidity.

As for the AP, more than a decade ago, buying into the "TV model"? That ignored newspapers themselves charging for circulation. In the TV world, it ignored cable, let alone premium cable.

January 25, 2010

Citizens United and China

Could last week's Supreme Court decision have more dire effects that eXXXon breaking the bank to fight climate change legislation, or Big Pharma swatting down national health care?

Like Big Bad China muscling in on U.S. elections?

Obama's populism lasts less than a week

Subtitle this post as "javascript:void(0)Message: I Don't Care," or, "Message, I Care about being a Neolib."

By signing off on the Gregg-Conrad budget whacking commission (first target, Social Security), Obama reverts to his true colors.

Put the hagiography back away.

YOU are getting stimulus help, tea partiers!

Including income tax relief in every paycheck, as Joe Klein notes. As he also notes, it's your own damn fault for watching nothing but Faux News, if you're that clueless.

Is Iran serious about "the bomb"?

It sure looks like it, down to a previously-undisclosed agency inside its Defense Ministry.

While China may oppose any additional major sanctions, perhaps Russia will now sign on.

The too-casual use of "civic religion"

Obama can't even be totally blame-free on this.

Very interesting, noting that civic religion often invokes what really is pure, dumb luck, but noting that nobody wants to actually put it that way.

In talking about theodicy and this issue, James Wood notes:
Either God is punitive and interventionist (the Robertson view), or as capricious as nature and so absent as to be effectively nonexistent (the Obama view). Unfortunately, the Bible, which frequently uses God’s power over earth and seas as the sign of his majesty and intervening power, supports the first view; and the history of humanity’s lonely suffering decisively suggests the second.

Or god, at least as many people see him, doesn't exist.

The emotional power of how theodicy undermines the Western Judeo-Islamo-Christian all-powerful deity was as powerful for me, if not more so, than intellectual arguments.

Unfortunately, somebody as smart as Barack Obama doesn't think that through.

Rightly did Hume say, in light of things like this, that reason is the slave of the passions.

Holy water makes Russian Orthodox believers sick

No further comment on this is needed.

But, it's going to get some.

Obviously the deity protected neither their health nor their gullibility.

Health care fail not just Obama's fault?

That's Douthat's take. He says any major political reform is likely "too big to reform" since we're all special interests.

He does have some good points, namely that last one, above all, but I think he's too pessimistic. I also think he lets Obama and Congressional Democrats too much off the hook.

You paid for the right to a mortgage default

At least if you're in a nonrecourse state like California or Arizona, you did. Yet, most underwater homeowners stick to their mortgages, which is part of what mortgage shysters surely counted on 4-5 years ago.

January 24, 2010

The shortcomings of cognitive behavioral therapy

A chapter in Jonah Lehrer's book, "How We Decide," along with a famous quote by David Hume, brought the title of this post to stark light.

Don't get me wrong. CBT is good to very good for mild, moderate and medium depressions. It's the bee's knees for panic attacks. In combination with densensitization therapy, it's very good for a lot of phobias.

But other neuroses, it might not help so much.

Lehrer talks about psychopathy in the latter portion of his book, and how psychopaths can read the emotions of others so well, but have no emotional connectivity to their own minds, so can rationalize, in a confabulating fashion, any decisions they may choose to take.

Autistic people, on the other hand, are just the reverse. They have an emotional life of their own, but simply cannot read other people's emotions.

Combine this with Hume's famous, and somewhat deliberately contrarian, observation that "reason is the slave of the passions," and you see CBT's shortcomings.

CBT says we can think our way through emotions.

Well, psychopaths can't. To the degree we can talk about a lesser version of them, and call that group "neuropaths" by analogy, they can't think their way through emotions very well. And, in a sense, autistic people can't think their way into emotions, if you will.

So, on counseling for emotional-based mental health issues where the emotions aren't irrational, or transcend the rational/irrational in some sense, being deeply rooted in the limbic brain (think PTSD), CBT really just can't cut the mustard.

Unfortunately, some CBT, or RBT (forgetting the "E") aficionados think it's almost a cure-all, or at the least, that it can do more than it can.