19 December 2006

Around the internets

Over at Needs of the Few, Evil Spocks warns us bad kids about Krampus: "Krampus is Santa's right-hand demon for driving away evil spirits during the holiday season. Not only that, Krampus travels with Santa and doles out punishment to all the naughty children, while Santa fills good kids stockings full of oranges and Nintendo Wii.To best sum up their relationship: Santa = Good Cop. Krampus = Bad Cop." This is a good twist. I always thought that the Christmas myth needed to take into account the value of negative reinforcement.

Speaking of evil demons, Witness for the Prosecution discusses Newt Greengrinch, er I mean Gringrich's, launch of American Solutions for Winning the Future which the "liberal media" is faithfully promoting. Mick provides some glimpses into what a Gringrich future might look like with some quotes:

Gingrich said the threat of biological or nuclear attack requires America to consider curbs to speech to fight terrorists . . .

Gingrich cited last month’s ejection of six Muslim scholars from a plane in Minneapolis for suspicious behavior, which included reports they prayed before the flight and had sat in the same seats as the Sept. 11 hijackers.“ Those six people should have been arrested and prosecuted for pretending to be terrorists,” Gingrich said. “And the crew of the U.S. airplane should have been invited to the White House and congratulated for being correct in the protection of citizens.” (These people are guilty of uh wearing white and praying, and they should have been arrested! That sounds like a very American sort of solution!)

And in other breaking news, some of you might not get presents this year. Using an advanced chi-square analysis, Santa has decided that Indians have been much nicer than Americans and has sent the elves to hand out presents to the more deserving.



I guess we should have waited until after Christmas before we brought Gringrich out into public again.

18 December 2006

Credit for the economy

This is a very long Krugman column that I found over at Cut to the Chase. Catherine astutely advises us "to read it all because it applies to all of us (well, except for the .2% of megabillionaires getting richer and richer during the George Bush reign of terror); the stuff on Wal-Mart is very right (did you catch the Wal-Mart piece on PBS' Frontline this week?)":

Why doesn't Bush get credit for the strong economy?" That question has been asked over and over again in recent months by political pundits. After all, they point out, the gross domestic product is up; unemployment, at least according to official figures, is low by historical standards; and stocks have recovered much of the ground they lost in the early years of the decade, with the Dow surpassing 12,000 for the first time. Yet the public remains deeply unhappy with the state of the economy.

In a recent poll, only a minority of Americans rated the economy as "excellent" or "good," while most consider it no better than "fair" or "poor."Are people just ungrateful? Is the administration failing to get its message out? Are the news media, as conservatives darkly suggest, deliberately failing to report the good news?None of the above. The reason most Americans think the economy is fair to poor is simple: For most Americans, it really is fair to poor. Wages have failed to keep up with rising prices. Even in 2005, a year in which the economy grew quite fast, the income of most non-elderly families lagged behind inflation. The number of Americans in poverty has risen even in the face of an official economic recovery, as has the number of Americans without health insurance. Most Americans are little, if any, better off than they were last year and definitely worse off than they were in 2000.But how is this possible? The economic pie is getting bigger -- how can it be true that most Americans are getting smaller slices?

The answer, of course, is that a few people are getting much, much bigger slices. Although wages have stagnated since Bush took office, corporate profits have doubled. The gap between the nation's CEOs and average workers is now ten times greater than it was a generation ago. And while Bush's tax cuts shaved only a few hundred dollars off the tax bills of most Americans, they saved the richest one percent more than $44,000 on average. In fact, once all of Bush's tax cuts take effect, it is estimated that those with incomes of more than $200,000 a year -- the richest five percent of the population -- will pocket almost half of the money. Those who make less than $75,000 a year -- eighty percent of America -- will receive barely a quarter of the cuts. In the Bush era, economic inequality is on the rise.Rising inequality isn't new. The gap between rich and poor started growing before Ronald Reagan took office, and it continued to widen through the Clinton years. But what is happening under Bush is something entirely unprecedented: For the first time in our history, so much growth is being siphoned off to a small, wealthy minority that most Americans are failing to gain ground even during a time of economic growth -- and they know it.

America has never been an egalitarian society, but during the New Deal and the Second World War, government policies and organized labor combined to create a broad and solid middle class. The economic historians Claudia Goldin and Robert Margo call what happened between 1933 and 1945 the Great Compression: The rich got dramatically poorer while workers got considerably richer. Americans found themselves sharing broadly similar lifestyles in a way not seen since before the Civil War.But in the 1970s, inequality began increasing again -- slowly at first, then more and more rapidly. You can see how much things have changed by comparing the state of affairs at America's largest employer, then and now. In 1969, General Motors was the country's largest corporation aside from AT&T, which enjoyed a government-guaranteed monopoly on phone service. GM paid its chief executive, James M. Roche, a salary of $795,000 -- the equivalent of $4.2 million today, adjusting for inflation. At the time, that was considered very high. But nobody denied that ordinary GM workers were paid pretty well. The average paycheck for production workers in the auto industry was almost $8,000 -- more than $45,000 today. GM workers, who also received excellent health and retirement benefits, were considered solidly in the middle class.Today, Wal-Mart is America's largest corporation, with 1.3 million employees. H. Lee Scott, its chairman, is paid almost $23 million -- more than five times Roche's inflation-adjusted salary. Yet Scott's compensation excites relatively little comment, since it's not exceptional for the CEO of a large corporation these days. The wages paid to Wal-Mart's workers, on the other hand, do attract attention, because they are low even by current standards. On average, Wal-Mart's non-supervisory employees are paid $18,000 a year, far less than half what GM workers were paid thirty-five years ago, adjusted for inflation. And Wal-Mart is notorious both for how few of its workers receive health benefits and for the stinginess of those scarce benefits.

15 December 2006

An inconvenient truth

I finally watched the documentary An Inconvenient Truth yesterday. I was highly impressed. The climate-change naysayers should pay particular attention to one study cited in the documentary. In a peer-reviewed meta-analysis of 928 scientific papers, the number of scientists who believed that global warming was not caused by humans and was not serious was . . . [drum role] . . . zero. The media, on the other, has given the doubters (a couple psuedo-scientific wackos employed by large oil corporations, basically) over half the coverage in the media.

The 928 papers were divided into six categories: explicit endorsement of the consensus position, evaluation of impacts, mitigation proposals, methods, paleoclimate analysis, and rejection of the consensus position. Of all the papers, 75% fell into the first three categories, either explicitly or implicitly accepting the consensus view; 25% dealt with methods or paleoclimate, taking no position on current anthropogenic climate change. Remarkably, none of the papers disagreed with the consensus position.

14 December 2006

Ho ho ho

A Christmas joke from way of Just Tug:

Three men died on Christmas Eve and were met by Saint Peter at the pearly gates."In honor of this holy season," Saint Peter said, "you must each possess something that symbolizes Christmas to get into heaven." The first man fumbled through his pockets and pulled out a lighter. He flicked it on. "It represents a candle", he said."You may pass through the pearly gates," Saint Peter said. The second man reached into his pocket and pulled out a set of keys. He shook them and said, "They're bells."Saint Peter said "You may pass through the pearly gates". The third man started searching desperately through his pockets and finally pulled out a pair of women's panties.St. Peter looked at the man with a raised eyebrow and asked, "And just what do those symbolize?"The man replied, "These are Carols." And So The Holiday Season Begins...

Saudis threaten to toss more $ around

It sounds like the U.S. has set up the conditions for a regional war:

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia warned the US vice-president, Dick Cheney, that the kingdom would provide money and arms to Sunni militias in Iraq if America withdrew its troops from the country, it emerged yesterday. The conversation, during a visit by Mr Cheney to Riyadh last month, was the most serious indication to date of Saudi concerns about a possible massacre of the minority Sunni community in Iraq in the event of a withdrawal of US forces, as well as rising Iranian influence in Iraq, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories.

At the same time, the U.S. is playing into the hands of Iran, a country that has decided it has cultural affinities with many American after all, especially KKK members. Which goes to show that Shrub's policies have failed even the conservative litmus test. Such a disaster, costing so many lives and creating chaos for decades to come, calls for an impeachment inquiry--especially since the move to war was based on, what we now know, were lies.

13 December 2006

L.A.

L.A. is on the right track. We need to abandon suburban sprawl and make cities livable once more.

Two massive projects — the L.A. Live entertainment complex next to Staples Center and the Grand Avenue development on Bunker Hill — are underway. A third giant project, a major expansion of Universal City, was unveiled last week. All adhere to a much-ballyhooed planning strategy embraced by Los Angeles power brokers. The projects, at a combined cost of about $7.5 billion, follow what has become the big planning trend in Los Angeles and elsewhere: mixing dense housing, retail and office space in village configurations near mass transit. The idea is to foster "smart growth" — in which residents leave their cars behind, walk to shops, and take buses and rail to work.

12 December 2006

Rightwing myths melting before our very eyes

This is quite a thought: We might be crossing the North Pole on summer cruises within our lifetimes. Of course, global warming would undoubtedly bring both benefits and disasters depending on region where you live. My only thought is that it would be nice to put just a little teensy bit more research into our actions before we decide to alter the climate over the entire planet.

Ice-free North Pole by 2040

Ice is melting so fast in the Arctic that the North Pole will be in the open sea within 30 years. Ships will be able to sail over the top of the world, and tourists will be able visit what was, until climate change, one of the planet's most inaccessible landscapes. US researchers, assessing the impact of carbon emissions on world climate, have calculated that late summer in the Arctic will be ice-free by 2040 or earlier. Some ice would still be found on coastlines, notably in Greenland and Ellesmere Island, but the rest of the Arctic Ocean, including the pole, would be open water. The researchers, funded by NASA, said the ice retreat was likely to remain constant until 2024, when the process would suddenly quicken. In 30 to 50 years, they concluded, summer sea-ice would have vanished from almost the entire Arctic region. But their forecast may already be out of date, says Chris Rapley, head of the British Antarctic Survey. He said a recent study suggested emissions were rising more than twice as fast as in 2000, and this was likely to speed up ice loss even further. "The study may be an underestimate of when the Arctic summer ice might be all gone," he said. During the past 25 years, Arctic ice has been reduced by 25 per cent. Scientists have long known that ice reflects heat, and as the quantity reduces so does the amount of heat that can be bounced away from the Earth. However, the study team from the National Centre for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, and two US universities, identified warmer ocean currents as an additional factor.

Disappearing ice is already causing problems for polar bears. Other wildlife, including seals, are also likely to suffer. "We have already witnessed major losses in sea ice, but our research suggests the decrease over the next few decades could be far more dramatic than anything that has happened so far," said Marika Holland, who led the polar warming study. "As the ice retreats, the ocean transports more heat to the Arctic and the open water absorbs more sunlight, further accelerating the rate of warming and leading to the loss of more ice."

10 December 2006

Half a trillion, and what do you get?

A couple years older and deeper in debt...

NASA is now headed to the moon, we're told, on its 17 billion dollar a year budget. I know it sounds like a lot of money to spend on our push to the stars, unless you stop and consider that we've probably already spent half a trillion in Iraq. If we'd had someone in the White House with a little more vision and a few less friends in the subcontracting business, we'd probably be mining fuel from the asteroid belt at this point as we set off for Alpha Centauri. Of course, it is a lot more manly to spend our dollars on weapons for shooting sprees in a country most Americans couldn't find on a map.

7 December 2006

Texas Oilmen Über Alles

Nearly 100,000 Iraqis each month are fleeing to Syria and Jordan. At the same time, there are about 100,000 government contractors operating in Iraq (and this doesn't even include subcontractors). Since Iraq has a population of around 27 million, this means that if we can just "stay the course," the country should be completely empty of Iraqis in about 22 years, after which time it'll be completely populated by Texas oilmen and ex-CIA operatives working for DC subcontracting firms. Shrub might get to build a ranch next to the Euphrates.

5 December 2006

John Podhoretz to the rescue!

Amidst the distant drone of helicopters flying off embassy rooftops, we still find hiding within dark corners of the internets a few remaining true blue crusaders. I came across a quote of a John Podhoretz piece over on XDA titled "John Podhoretz Sees the Situation In Iraq Clearly":

December 5, 2006 -- THE most common cliché about the war in Iraq is now this: We didn't have a plan, and now everything is in chaos; we didn't have a plan, and now we can't win.
This is entirely wrong. We did have a plan - the problem is that the plan didn't work. And of course we can win - we just have to choose to do so.


Uh oh. The revisionists are already at work rewriting the history books. The U.S. forces could have easily won in Iraq but the peacenik politicians wouldn't let them take their rifles off safety.

The problem with our plan is that it wasn't actually a military plan. We thought a political process inside Iraq would make a military push toward victory against a tripartite foe - Saddamist remnants, foreign terrorists and anti-American Shiites - unnecessary.

Let me get this right. The foe is those Shiite fellers and them Sunni fellers and foreigners. That pretty much includes everyone in Iraq except for the stray Vulcan or Ferengi who has strayed back through a time warp. (Oops! I guess they'd be foreigners too.)

Yes, we'd stay in Iraq and fight the bad guys when we had to, which seemed mostly to be when they decided to attack us first.

Who attacked us first? I ain't seen none of those dagnab Iraqi fellers in my neck of the woods. Guess they haven't invaded these here parts though I did see an unshaven fellah that could have very well been an Iraqi driving a taxi the other day.

Our resolve was intended to give the Iraqi people the sense that they were being given control of their future, and to give Iraqi politicians the sense that they had a chance to forge a new kind of country in which everybody could prosper. For this reason, we relented on several occasions when we had a chance to score a major victory over the bad guys. Because politics was more important than military victory, because playing the game was more important than killing the enemy, we chose to lose.

Here we go again. If we would have been more willing to torture, rape, and sodomize teenagers picked up in random sweeps, the whole country would be singing our praises.

After the beheading of Americans in Fallujah, we had the city surrounded - but, because it seemed an attack on Fallujah would be problematic for Iraqi politics, we pulled back. We had the Shiite monster Moqtada al-Sadr in our sights as well, but let him go as well for fear Iraq's leading Shiite cleric would turn on us.

And we also had Saddam in our sights and we funded him, backed his coup, and then supported him in an invasion of a neighboring country. (Uh oh. Did I make a faux pas? I didn't mean to discuss facts of ancient history that might be upsetting . . .)

Each of these decisions seemed prudent at the time. In retrospect, they seem disastrous. Our failure to take Fallujah after the deaths of Americans gave the enemy the sense that we were weak. Our failure to kill Sadr has led to a situation in which he has excessive power over the elected government. Still, the theory of how to prevail in Iraq made sense as a theory.

Great. Let's declare theoretical victory and send the troops home.

What, after all, were the Saddamists and the terrorists fighting for? Clearly there would be no restoration of Saddam's cruel reign, and they couldn't score a battlefield victory against us. That's why Dick Cheney and others referred to them as "dead-enders" - because they were and are dead-enders. They had no achievable goal for securing power in Iraq.

With big Dick Cheney dissin' them, I surprised they didn't just keel over and die on the spot.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi people were voting in elections - 8 million in the first, 10 million in the second, 12 million in the third. They created a new political class where there'd been none before. Once an actual Iraqi government was up and running, we expected the political progress to choke off the oxygen of the dead-enders. With an Iraq hurtling into the future, they would melt away because there was nothing for them to gain. What's more, there was nothing in it for the Saddamists - Sunnis all - to provoke a civil war, because they'd lose. Shiites outnumber Sunnis 2-1, and there are as many Kurds and Sunnis. So that was the plan. We didn't have to win against our foes: The Iraqi people were going to defeat them.

Oh, behold the theoretical beauty of it all!

In other words, we were standing the Iraqis up so we could stand down. Sound familiar? That is the prescription for leaving Iraq that's on everyone's lips - Democrats, Republicans, the Baker-Hamilton group. And guess who else? Donald Rumsfeld. Yes, Bush's very own defense secretary clearly believed this was the way to go. In his classified memo, leaked to The New York Times over the weekend, Rummy says it's time for the Iraqis to "pull up their socks." We should pull back so the Iraqis don't depend on us to secure their future.

The Iraqis do seem to be "pulling up their socks" right before they grab guns and run out the door to shoot American soldiers. I don't think more "sock-pulling" is the problem.

That was not a new idea for him or the administration. In May 2003, a senior administration official told me it was "time for the Iraqis to step up to the plate."

Perhaps the only problem is a deficit of metaphors. I don't think too many Iraqis are donning socks to play baseball games. Maybe we need to advise them to "tighten their turbans" and "cast those backgammon dice".

That's nice. But the Iraqis can't "step up to the plate," and they can't "pull up their socks." The plan envisioned that they could do so whenever they chose. The plan said their political progress would be the way for them to reach the plate and reach their socks. The plan failed.

Due to the metaphorical deficiencies previously mentioned . . .

So we need a new plan. But the Baker-Hamilton advice isn't a new plan. The Democrats don't have a new plan. The only plan that will work is a plan to face the tripartite enemy - the Saddamists, the foreign terrorists and the Shiite sectarians - and bring them to heel.

I can hear a red-faced Elmer Fudd in the background: "You wascally wabbit. Now you weally make me mad."

Kill as many bad guys as we can, with as many troops as we can muster. If this is unrealistic, then Iraq is lost. If we can't win, then we lose.
This worked so well in Vietnam. When the Vietnamese people saw planes napalming entire villages, they embraced the Americans in droves.

Political change doesn't win wars. That's what we've learned, painfully and horribly. Only winning wars wins wars.

Has this been plagiarized from some old Vince Lombardi speech? This sounds oddly like a half-time speech in a for-Hollywood B-movie script.

President Bush needs to decide, as soon as possible, that he is going to win this war - that the bad guys are going to die, that we are going to kill them and that we will achieve our objectives in Iraq. That is the only way forward for him if he doesn't want to end up in ignominy.

I think it's a little late for that. Shrub hit ignomy and ignominy and various states of ignorami long ago. We're just waiting to see if he gets tarred and feathered.

The clock is ticking. He has only a week, maybe two, to change course dramatically. To choose to win, and to direct the military to do so. Or we are sunk, and so is he.

We're certainly sunk. And you've got the metaphor right this time: Twisting on the wheel of the sinking ship isn't going to change anything.

4 December 2006

The terrorist next door

I bet you didn't realize that the knitting grandmothers blocking the sidewalk to the perfume testing division at the local perfume plant were terrorists, but it just goes to show your ignorance of how far the nation has progressed on the path to . . . er . . . somewhere . . . I don't know about you, but I will personally sleep much better now that the great daddy of the nation, Prezidunce Shrub, is protecting us from such people. Perhaps I can remove a few strands of duck-tape (the kind tested on live ducks) from my windows:

ANIMAL TERRORISM ACT SIGNED INTO LAW 11/27/06

Sen. Dianne Feinstein announced today that President Bush signed into law the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, a bill that can potentially criminalize interference with an "animal enterprise," including interference with commercial and academic institutions that may use animals for testing or research.

According to Feinstein's office, universities and research facilities such as the University of California San Francisco campus have been targeted by animal activist groups, causing them to spend more than $2.5 million dollars to increase security at their research facilities.
Dr. Elliot Katz, veterinarian and founder of In Defense of Animals, says the law unfairly targets animal rights activists by placing restrictions on their protests not placed on protests conducted by other groups.


"I am proud to be an activist," said Katz, "I am not a terrorist."

Katz said, "The bill reads: if you do something illegal that affects the economics of a company then you can be punished."

Katz said he fears this may include actions such as civil disobedience.

According to Feinstein's office, the law "establishes graded penalties of up to life imprisonment, depending on the financial damage or level of bodily injury caused by such conduct."

Feinstein says the law "confronts these threats in a manner that gives due protections under the First Amendment."

Katz disagrees.

"This law proves that industries are profiting from animals and they don't want to lose the profits that they make on the backs of animals," he said. "They want to intimidate people who care about other species."

2 December 2006

More nonsense from the Christian right

Christian conservatives are fond of harping on the harmless nature of their blurring of the state-church divide. But it's clear where such rhetoric is leading us:

WASHINGTON - Keith Ellison, who will become the first Muslim member of Congress next month, has offended some conservatives with his plan to use the Quran during his ceremonial swearing-in. The decision by Ellison, D-Minn., to use the Muslim holy book for the ceremony instead of the Bible triggered an angry column by Dennis Prager on the Web site Townhall.com this week. Headlined, "America, Not Keith Ellison, decides what book a congressman takes his oath on," Prager argued that using the Quran for the ceremony "undermines American civilization."

Let's paraphrase the following. Basically, the author is saying, "The state, not the individual, will determine public officials' choices on purely religious matters." I've long known that the historical accuracy of reports of our forefathers coming to the "new world" in search of religious freedom for all was highly questionable. But I guess that we're going to now abandon even the facade of being a pluralistic democracy. The article continues...

"Insofar as a member of Congress taking an oath to serve America and uphold its values is concerned, America is interested in only one book, the Bible," he wrote. "If you are incapable of taking an oath on that book, don't serve in Congress." Conservative bloggers have picked up the criticism and run with it.

Conservative bloggers can always be counted upon to pick up the latest talking points from Fox News or elsewhere and repeat the nonsense verbatim without the least bit of analysis as they all run lemming-like for the nearest cliff.

Ellison was unavailable for comment Friday, but his incoming chief of staff, Kari Moe, dismissed the brouhaha. "I think the criticism is being flamed by the politics of division that were rejected in the '06 election cycle," said Moe, who worked for 10 years for the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn. Moe, speaking in a telephone interview, noted that the tradition is for all members of Congress to be sworn in together on the House floor. It's in the photo-op ceremony that a Bible is used — or in Ellison's case, the Quran.

We wouldn't want anyone abandoning the sacred traditions of our photo-ops!

But Prager argued in a telephone interview that the ceremony was no less significant than the actual swearing-in. "Oh, that's the whole point — it's exactly because it's ceremonial that it matters to me," he said. "Ceremonies matter. Ceremonies are exceedingly important. That is the way a society states what is most significant to it." Prager argued that the issue wasn't about freedom of religion. "I want Jews like myself to take the oath on the Bible, even though the New Testament is not our Bible," he said.

Actually, the Old Testament is part of the Bible. For that matter, Muslims generally accept the Old Testament as well and accept the idea that Jesus was a prophet. But this is all neither here nor there. If the majority religion in the U.S. shifts, will Christians suddenly find themselves willing to swear on the Buddhist sutras or the sacred texts of other religions? If not, why are they asking people who believe other religions to do something that they themselves would never do?

Asked if it would be a problem for a Jewish lawmaker to take the oath on a Bible that included only the Old Testament, Prager responded, "Yes, it would," because he said the point is to honor the "Bible of this country."

Countries have their own Bible!?

But despite writing that Ellison shouldn't serve in Congress if he doesn't take an oath with the Bible, Prager said he didn't think Ellison should be banned from serving. "I don't think anything legal should be done about this," he said.

I disagree. I think Prager should be tarred and feathered and then sent into exile.

Moe said the issue was pretty straightforward. "Religious freedom is a tradition in our country," she said. Ellison won an open seat race to replace longtime Democratic Rep. Martin Sabo, who is retiring.