Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Republican Party as it really is.

Here are some events that display the positions held by the Republican Party in America.

First we get Congressman Tom Tancredo declaring that there needs to be a wall between the U.S. and Mexico that puts Brownsville, Texas on the Mexican side of the wall. Tom Tancredo, you will remember, was a minority candidate for the Republican nomination for President, getting fewer voted than either Ron Paul or Mike Huckabee, but seriously moving the Republican issues towards stopping Mexican immigration into the U.S and towards rounding up the 12 million Mexicans currently living and working in the U.S. and sending them back to Mexico.

This is an effort to disrupt a social movement that has existed since the end of the Mexican-American war, to stop the movement of a rural population that no longer has an economic purpose to the industrial (including industrialized agriculture) jobs that have replaced subsistence agriculture, and to establish a formal national border which has never before existed. It is a fear-based effort to recreate history, economic and sociology that has never before existed. It is the Republican Party creating public fear over normal social activities. (Ask, and I'll explain at length.)

Then we get Tony Zirkle, the Nazi segregationist running for the Republican nomination for Congressman. Off-the-wall fringe candidate? "Porter County Republican chairman Chuck Williams on Tuesday denounced Zirkle's appearance at the gathering." But hey, 30% of the Republican who voted in the 2006 Republican Primary for the same office voted for him against then-incumbent Chris Chocola.

This is a large part of America's current Republican Party. Anti-immigrant Nazi segregationists.

America does not need these people in positions of power in the government.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

McCain's foreign policy fantasies

McCain stated recently "I think that people should understand that I will be Hamas's worst nightmare." So McCain is putting the full military weight of America behind behind his threat to Hamas if he becomes President.


As Glenn Greenwald points out that Hamas has a territorial dispute with Israel but what dispute do they have with America? More important, what threat is Hamas to America? When did a threat to Israel become a threat to America that requires that we become "the worst nightmare" of threats to Israel no matter what the degree of threat to America. Israel can defend themselves. That's why we give them more foreign aid than any other nation in the world.

This looks like a McCain effort to attract the American Jewish vote. It works in concert with organized the anti-Obama campaign aimed at Jews in Florida.

Go read Glenn Greenwald. See also Glenn Greenwald for a complete discussion.

An explanation of why the "Rev. Wright" anti-Obama ad is racist

Over at Whiskey Fire is a clear explanation of why and how the anti-Obama ad about Rev. Wright's sermon is racist.

I'd claim that I couldn't explain it better, but the fact it that I can't explain it nearly as clearly.

The Whiskey Fire discussion displays the fact that most White Racism is unconscious, based on attitudes and training given a child early in life, usually by the child's family. It is a set of mostly unconscious fear-based reactions to people of African descent. Those who hold the Racist attitudes are usually not aware of most of their racist reactions, and resent having it pointed out to them when they display racist reactions.

Those who are the receivers of those racist reactions are normally very aware of the racism they suffer. The open acknowledgment that someone else is acting in a racist manner is not normally itself a racist reaction. It is a recognition of the obvious. The racist person makes different decisions about someone based on their African heritage. That difference is not based on the facts of the circumstances except for the perceived race of the person it is directed at. Only someone unaware of the racist action could possibly consider the reaction and acknowledgment of the obvious racism as itself being racist behavior.

That unconscious irrational reaction to an angry black male is inherently racist. Ann Althouse simply demonstrates her obliviousness to her own racist attitudes when she claims otherwise. To those who are victims of the racism it is very clear that the "Rev. Wright" anti-Obama ad is racist. Only those oblivious to racism could say otherwise.

The Criminal John McCain

McCain opted into the federal campaign financing system when he was too broke to continue his campaign without it. Now he has exceeded the limit of funds he was allowed to spend before the Republican convention, but has he stopped collecting and spending money?


And every dollar he spends above the cap is a crime.

McCain's excuse for his criminal behavior is that after opting in to the system and using it to get a loan to continue, he later announced that he was opting out.

The similar behavior of a bank robber would be to claim that when he told the bank clerk to hand him all the money or he would kill her he had his fingers crossed behind his back and didn't really mean it, and besides, the clerk didn't give him the money anyway.

Fair courts wouldn't buy either argument.

Bin Laden supports John McCain for President

Joe Klein reports that Osama bin Laden is a strong McCain supporter.
John McCain is probably the favorite candidate of Osama bin Laden, just as George W. Bush was Osama's presidential preference. [Snip]

Ron Suskind had a relevant scene in his excellent book The One Percent Doctrine: It's the Friday before election day in 2004 and Osama bin Laden has issued a videotape in which he lambastes President Bush. The top dawgs at the CIA are gathered to analyze the tape. Dep. Director John McLaughlin says, "I wonder who Osama is voting for?" Everyone cracks up because the answer is so obvious.
The supporters who hid the right-wing terrorist Erik Rudolph for five years while he was on the run also support John McCain. From the Christian Science Monitor:
Instead of retreating into the deep mountains or urban anonymity, he stayed in a "comfort zone" at the edge of society. Experts say that choice shows Rudolph's limits as a survivalist, but also a distaste for total isolation - and, perhaps, a need to stay close to a network of conspirators.
John McCain, the favorite candidate for religious terrorists of all types.

Any similar accusations from the McCain camp aimed at either Obama or Clinton are nothing more than "projection", the well-known psychological reaction of a guilty man who want others to share his own guilt.

"Straight-talking" McCain's flipflops

The Carpetbagger Report lists some of John McCain's reversals of position. These reversals make it difficult to recognize the so-called honest straight-talker that is supposedly the Senator from Arizona.
  • McCain pledged in February 2008 that he would not, under any circumstances, raise taxes. Specifically, McCain was asked if he is a “‘read my lips’ candidate, no new taxes, no matter what?” referring to George H.W. Bush’s 1988 pledge. “No new taxes,” McCain responded. Two weeks later, McCain said, “I’m not making a ‘read my lips’ statement, in that I will not raise taxes.”
  • McCain claims to have considered and not considered joining John Kerry’s Democratic ticket in 2004.
  • In 1998, he championed raising cigarette taxes to fund programs to cut underage smoking, insisting that it would prevent illnesses and provide resources for public health programs. Now, McCain opposes a $0.61-per-pack tax increase, won’t commit to supporting a regulation bill he’s co-sponsoring, and has hired Philip Morris’ former lobbyist as his senior campaign adviser.
  • McCain’s first mortgage plan was premised on the notion that homeowners facing foreclosure shouldn't be “rewarded” for acting “irresponsibly.” His second mortgage plan took largely the opposite position.
  • McCain vowed, if elected, to balance the federal budget by the end of his first term. Soon after, he decided he would no longer even try to reach that goal.
  • McCain’s campaign unveiled a Social Security policy that the senator would implement if elected, which did not include a Bush-like privatization scheme. In March 2008, McCain denounced his own campaign’s policy.
  • In February 2008, McCain reversed course on prohibiting waterboarding.
  • In November 2007, McCain reversed his previous position on a long-term presence for U.S. troops in Iraq, arguing that the “nature of the society in Iraq” and the “religious aspects” of the country make it inevitable that the United States “eventually withdraws.” Two months later, McCain reversed back, saying he’s prepared to leave U.S. troops in Iraq for 100 years.
  • McCain used to champion the Law of the Sea convention, even volunteering to testify on the treaty’s behalf before a Senate committee. Now he opposes it.
  • McCain was a co-sponsor of the DREAM Act, which would grant legal status to illegal immigrants’ kids who graduate from high school. Now he’s against it.
  • On immigration policy in general, McCain announced in February 2008 that he would vote against his own legislation.
  • In 2006, McCain sponsored legislation to require grassroots lobbying coalitions to reveal their financial donors. In 2007, after receiving “feedback” on the proposal, McCain told far-right activist groups that he opposes his own measure.
  • McCain said before the war in Iraq, “We will win this conflict. We will win it easily.” Four years later, McCain said he knew all along that the war in Iraq war was “probably going to be long and hard and tough.”
  • McCain said he was the “greatest critic” of Rumsfeld’s failed Iraq policy. In December 2003, McCain praised the same strategy as “a mission accomplished.” In March 2004, he said, “I’m confident we’re on the right course.” In December 2005, he said, “Overall, I think a year from now, we will have made a fair amount of progress if we stay the course.”
  • McCain went from saying he would not support repeal of Roe v. Wade to saying the exact opposite.
  • McCain went from saying gay marriage should be allowed, to saying gay marriage shouldn’t be allowed.
  • McCain criticized TV preacher Jerry Falwell as “an agent of intolerance” in 2002, but then decided to cozy up to the man who said Americans “deserved” the 9/11 attacks.
  • McCain used to oppose Bush’s tax cuts for the very wealthy, but he reversed course in February.
  • On a related note, he said 2005 that he opposed the tax cuts because they were “too tilted to the wealthy.” By 2007, he denied ever having said this, and insisted he opposed the cuts because of increased government spending.
  • In 2000, McCain accused Texas businessmen Sam and Charles Wyly of being corrupt, spending “dirty money” to help finance Bush’s presidential campaign. McCain not only filed a complaint against the Wylys for allegedly violating campaign finance law, he also lashed out at them publicly. In April, McCain reached out to the Wylys for support.
  • McCain supported a major campaign-finance reform measure that bore his name. In June 2007, he abandoned his own legislation.
  • McCain opposed a holiday to honor Martin Luther King, Jr., before he supported it.
  • McCain was against presidential candidates campaigning at Bob Jones University before he was for it.
  • McCain was anti-ethanol. Now he’s pro-ethanol.
  • McCain was both for and against state promotion of the Confederate flag.
  • McCain decided in 2000 that he didn’t want anything to do with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, believing he “would taint the image of the ‘Straight Talk Express.’” Kissinger is now the Honorary Co-Chair for his presidential campaign in New York.
That's a list of 26 document reversals of position, all of which appear designed to appeal to the Republican base voters. If a Democratic candidate did that, the media echo-chamber would be raising holy Hell about it. Since John McCain did it, the media seems to have the attitude of "Oh, yeah. But that's just old straight-talking consistent maverick McCain. We like him. Next issue."

McCain's bad week

McCain has not had a good week at all. d-day at Hullabaloo describes some of it.

He can't keep his message straight. The multiple contradictions are so bad that even the media is noting them. Visiting New Orleans he spoke about rebuilding the same 9th Ward he earlier proposed to simply tear down and abandon, then claimed three days later that he had never suggested any such thing.

It doesn't help that he proposes solutions to the problems in New Orleans that, as a born-again tax cutter, he can clearly never pay for. Of course, the tax cuts and the government solutions he proposes are aimed at different voter blocks. The contradictions are required if he is going to keep the Republican coalition together through November 4th.

Then his financial desperation became obvious when he arranged a special cut rate for a hall used for a fundraiser ($250 for a hall that normally rents for $1200 a night) and arranged to use prisoners to set up and tear down the furniture.

McCain's rather extensive favors which helped to further enrich Donald R. Diamond, a wealthy, 80-year-old real estate developer were reported by the New York Times. Apparently McCain's experience with Arizona developer Charles Keating did not teach him the dangers of using his Senate office to do favors that further enrich the already wealthy. But Diamond is a long-time contributor to McCain's campaigns, and clearly his efforts are badly needed this year to support the McCain campaign for President. Diamond has already raised $250,000 for this year's campaign according to the New York Times. (Pretty good payback for the quick $19,000,000 plus profit McCain arranged for him to get.)

Then Gail Collins at the New York Times points out that McCain would have joined his fellow Republican Senators killing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act which was intended to restore workers’ ability to go to court in cases of pay discrimination. Why? McCain explained that the bill “opens us up for lawsuits, for all kinds of problems and difficulties.” Yeah, right. A Republican like McCain certainly wouldn't want to open up employers who were violating the equal pay law to lawsuits over violations of the law.

McCain is too ignorant, too conservative, too much like Bush, and way too old to be elevated from the Senate to the Presidency.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

McCain has received government health care all his life but refuses it to others.

Last year John McCain voted against the children's health care bill. He doesn't want children to get government-paid health care. It's philosophical with him. He believes that Americans belong to the "You're on your own" society. But that's not something he has ever lived himself.

McCain himself was born with government health care in a Navy hospital as the son of an admiral and has received government-paid health care for the entire seven decades of his life.

Cliff Schecter describes this and other hypocritical attitudes of conservatives generally.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Here's Digby on how bad things are for the Democrats

From Digby. What are the Democrats getting out of the long primary?
A huge increase in Democratic voter registration, building of strong ground operations in most states, new technologies being beta tested, lots of media coverage and battle testing for the nominee are of benefit to the nominee in the fall. Meanwhile, the Democrats stay at center stage while McCain wanders around in obscurity, failing to raise money and leaving a trail of gaffes in his wake. As long as they don't know at whom to aim their fire the Republicans can't cement their narrative. In the end, I remain convinced that we are going into an election that is so fundamentally seismic that either of them can win it, even if more closely than we might want, due to the breakthrough nature of their campaigns. The primary continuing on is not going to change that.

I don't think people realize that the democratization the internet has brought to the system is also one of the main reasons why the campaign goes on. If you think superdelegates are undemocratic, back in the bad old days (of a couple of cycles ago) big party donors pulled the strings by pulling the money when they decided that someone had no chance to win. Today, both candidacies are where they are on the basis of avid small donor supporters contributing online and that's prolonged things past the point where it would have in the past. Thousands of Clinton supporters keep sending her money-- ten million since last night, apparently. So, if you don't like the fact that the campaign continues, blame the internet. It wouldn't have happened under the old paradigm.

Who's going to win? Like most people, I expect it will be Obama, but I can see that the idea of a unity ticket might begin to look like a way for the superdelegates to settle this. I don't think this campaign is hurting him --- he's getting needed experience and learning how to counter punch. (It's also pin pointing the places where he needs to improve his campaign for the fall.) And the fact that Clinton is still winning big primaries and getting campaign contributions makes it ridiculous to expect her --- or any politician --- to quit (no matter what the NY Times editorial board says.) She has a legitimate constituency (nearly half the voters) in the party that wants her to see this through.
I agree with her.

In particular, consider what she said about the change in how Presidential elections are decided. "If you think superdelegates are undemocratic, back in the bad old days (of a couple of cycles ago) big party donors pulled the strings by pulling the money when they decided that someone had no chance to win."

That is still the way the Republican Party operates, and is allows the decisions of a few very wealthy contributors to drive the whole party. If you think the Republican Party is the party of the wealthy elite - of course it is. That's where they have gotten the money they needed to operate. They are a political party run by wealthy bankers, wealthy military contractors, and wealthy evangelistic leaders.

Without them, the Republican Party couldn't field national candidates. They wouldn't have the money. Only this time, the internet has allowed the middle class to weigh in and fund people who speak for them.

This started to be noticeable in the 2006 election, and it is a tide that has gotten much stronger. That's one reason why Obama is ahead of Clinton currently, and why either Obama or Clinton will have more money to run on than McCain will.

McCain hasn't been able to tap into the Internet for money effectively. He doesn't have the base who will contribute or the message that resonates with the mass voters, while both Obama and Clinton do. The wealthy Republican donors see this. They contribute to Republicans because it is a good investment. If it is unlikely that McCain can win in November, contributing to him is a bad investment, and the big money Republicans don't make a lot of bad investments when they can see the likelihood of big return is poor. They do "expected value" calculations very well.

The money is key to the break-through nature of the Democratic campaigns, and the Internet is the key to the money.

As a Texan I have also really appreciated the length of the primary. It hasn't been front-loaded with small New England states who eliminated the best candidates before I could weigh in. Four years ago I had caucuses for three precincts, and had five people to show up to fill four Democratic county delegate positions and four alternate positions. The excitement of the campaign brought out about 200 people this time. The Republicans for the same precincts had no one show up.

We have had Democrats take notice of the elections and register to vote, unlike the last two decades. The long primary has given us that, and many of those new registrants will be back to vote in the general election. Some are going to be organizing the get-out-the-vote operations.

That's another benefit of the long primary.

I do think it is time to start working on McCain, though. The Obama-Clinton battle should not cause us to ignore the tortoise in the race, McCain. Either Obama or Clinton will be a much, much better President than McCain, so we shouldn't let the decision of which of the two will face him interfere with pointing out his flaws.

In the meantime, we just let the rest of the national primaries happen and see who the Democratic voters want. That's what will win the general election.

Euro worth $1.60

When the Euro was first created in 1999 it was worth a dollar. Now, after seven and a half years of the Bush administration it is worth $1.60. From the BBC News:
The euro has hit a record peak against the US dollar on expectations of higher interest rates in the euro zone.

It rose as high as $1.6019 as weak US housing market data underscored fears over the health of the US economy.

The euro has rallied in recent months and Tuesday's peak came as European central
raised the prospect of higher rates to control inflation.

Higher interest rates make bank deposits and other euro-denominated investments more attractive.

Most other central banks are cutting the cost of borrowing as they look to limit the impact of a global economic slowdown. [Snip]

"Interest rate differentials are really favouring the euro right now," said Camilla Sutton, a currency strategist at Scotia Capital in Toronto.

European Central Bank governing council member Christian Noyer said the bank would do what was needed to bring inflation back to its target of just below 2%, adding it would move rates if needed.
While the Europeans are aiming for inflation lower than 2%, the U.S. has growing inflation already over 4%. Everything that is imported is already costing more, especially oil.

The increase in the cost of living will cause pressure to raise labor rates, also increasing inflation.

When a Banker or government economist says that the financial problems are almost over, they are whistling in the wind.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Foreclosure map of the U.S. - interactive

There have been a lot of news stories about foreclosures, but they usually name a bunch of places most of us have never even visited. Here is an interactive map of the U.S. with all the currently listed foreclosure properties on it.

There are three within half a mile or less of me, and the house that most closely resembles mine is valued at $35,000 more than I owe on mine, so the value of my house has gone up about 50% since I bought it in 1999. Since I am two miles from downtown on a good bus route and six blocks north of rail tracks proposed for intercity rail, I suspect the value of this location will go up because of the price of gasoline. As I described in my earlier post today, America's transportation systems and housing are changing radically, I'm apparently in a position to make a profit if I ever sell this place.

Check the map to see how your area is doing.

Another McCain scandal not noted much in the media

It seems like a special deal for a senator to go out of his way to help an investor buy a piece of government land from the Pentagon for $250,000 that a few years later he turns around as sells for - get this - $20,000,000.

Gee. Why won't MY Republican Senator give me that kind of constituent service? But then, I am sure that the investor, Donald Diamond, contributed to Cindy McCain's wealth substantially. That's probably part of the reason why - unlike Kerry four years ago - McCain hasn't released his wife's tax returns along with his own.

Of course, the supine media hasn't bothered to ask McCain to release his wife's tax returns they way they did Kerry. But McCain is a straight-talking maverick Republican! (and the media is in his pocket.)

From: The Reality-Based Community.

Economic risk models failed a lot of banks

The credit crunch occurred because a lot of banks, both commercial and investment banks, failed to recognize the risk they were taking when the loaned cheap money to mortgage lenders. They were depending on computerized quantitative risk analysis to prevent that kind of mistake.

For an idea of what went wrong, here is a brief report from NPR. The Brownian motion described in the report means that the motion of tiny pollen grains placed in water is completely random. The direction of movement of the pollen grain is unpredictable. It has no memory of the previous change of direction, so the next move is as likely to be left as right.

That's been found to be true of market prices for stocks and bonds also. In the very short term of the next transaction there is no way to tell if the price will go up or down. The direction of the nest transaction price is completely random. Is it predictable in any way? The risk model says "No" because all biases are known to the market makers and are already reflected in the price of the security. This is the thesis of Burton Malkiel's influential book "A Random Walk Down Wall Street."

It was the assumption that all biases were built into the price that failed. Either the market biases were concealed from market makers, or the market makers ignored the indications of market bias.

The ways the biases were concealed were numerous. Rating agencies that were expected to provide accurate ratings for securities were chosen by how good a rating they would give the security, and they only got paid if they won the bidding war for how high they would rate the security. Mortgage brokers - again, only paid if they successfully sold a mortgage, were allowed by lack of regulation, oversight and lack of transparency to fake documents sent to the banks, who, similarly, were ignoring good underwriting practices when they loaned the money. It didn't matter to either the mortgage broker or the banker how good the loan was because they were going to sell it to investors concealed in large securities that included hundreds of mortgages.

These practices were ignored by the market makers because they assumed that the rating agencies were doing their job, and traditionally banks had not loaned money to people who could not pay because they would lose money if the loan defaulted. The large securities normally have a buy-back provision so that the bank will have to buy back from the investor loans that default. As long as only a few default, this is not a problem. But if a lot default at once, the bank can't afford to buy the defaulted loans back.

Since the risk models look at transactions individually and assume no overall bias, they did not anticipate the factors that were concealed by the mortgage brokers and lenders and ignored by bankers. It is a truism of the discipline of Risk Management that quantitative tools cannot predict and evaluate all risks. Those tools have to be used along with the judgment of human experts. Quantitative risk models, no matter how powerful, are always incomplete.

But the human experts who could have recognized the possibility that market will not always go up learned that fact when they experienced the recession of the early 80's. Since then, except for a few short market blips, markets have always gone up. No real surprise, since when they started to go down, the fed would loosen money and lower interest rates. [*]

The quantitative computerized risk management models have all been developed and adopted since the recession of the early 80's. The older experts do not understand the mathematics of the new models. Instead, they have been adopted and installed by a new generation of math- and computer-savvy whiz kids - whiz kids who do not remember the recession of the early 80's, and if anyone mentioned it to them would just shrug and assume that the federal reserve could prevent the market from going South on them. It always has.

As the NPR article pointed out, not all banks have been caught in the current credit crisis. In some the older hands did keep the decisions from involving too much risk. They added judgment to the conclusions the computer models offered. But there haven't been enough of those to prevent the current economic downturn.

It's in the banks that ignored good human judgment on risks that things went South. The lesson has been learned again. Quantitative risk models cannot be trusted without the judgment of experienced bankers. The bankers who keep their jobs during the next few years of economic difficulty will mostly be those who understand that lesson.

Of course, there is always a new generation of young mathematical whiz kids who think they know everything that matters waiting in the wings for the next time.

[*] It should be noted that the period since the recession of the early 80's has also been dominated by conservative free-market ideology and by the removal of the Depression era limitations on the risks big banks and big business could take. It has also seen the shift of risk from businesses to individual workers and the use of governments - Federal, state and local - to tax individuals and give the proceeds to the wealthy.

There has also been an increase in the financial exploitation of the middle class by the financial industry as is indicated by the orgy of issuing credit cards together with the banker-inspired restrictions on bankruptcy. The working class has similarly been hit with Pay Day Lenders who take advantage of the every greater uncertainty of employment as companies have made workers into the variable costs they cut when the market fails to go their way.

The current credit problems and recession are a repudiation of those conservative theories.

America's transportation systems and housing are changing radically.

Low priced oil is a thing of the past. Here's what that means:
  • Long commutes from distant suburbs to work are over.
  • Long distant travel by car will become rare. So will short trips by air.
  • Commuter Rail is going to be used a lot more in cities and between nearby larger cities and
  • Rail will replace a lot of long distance trucking.
Are you ready?

Here it is. The reaction to long commutes and high gasoline prices.
Morning Edition, April 21, 2008

Economists say home prices are nowhere near hitting bottom. But even in regions that have taken a beating, some neighborhoods remain practically unscathed. And a pattern is emerging as to which neighborhoods those are.

The ones with short commutes are faring better than places with long drives into the city. Some analysts see a pause in what has long been inexorable — urban sprawl.
Gas prices may drop a little in the future, but we'll never see dollar-a-gallon gasoline again. Hour long commutes one way to work in good traffic add to the cost of suburbs. Put this together with the clear fact that oil prices are not going to drop significantly. Demand is increasing and supply is becoming more expensive to obtain if it is there at all. Also, the overvalued dollar will continue to drop against the Euro, the Yen and the Chinese Renminbi. Even if the price of oil remains constant world wide, it will increase in the U.S. because of the declining value of the dollar. What does the fact that house prices closer to city center aren't dropping as much as oil prices climb tell us?

City centers are coming back. The cost of transportation in both price and hassle is climbing and won't go down much. America will adapt by encouraging people to live closer to the city center for work and encouraging greater use of public transportation, particularly rail.

Detroit is building the wrong type vehicles to survive. Add to this the fact that fuel prices are making airlines as they are currently structured and priced completely unprofitable. The resulting mergers will eliminate whatever price restrictions that competition has enforced on them, so air travel is going to jump in price and become a lot less popular. Boeing and Airbus are going to be designing new aircraft that can operate profitably in a market characterized by $100 plus dollars a barrel.

As more concentrated cities come back, we will see a sharp increase in demand for rail transportation, but rail will not be sufficiently profitable to operate without subsidies. Cars aren't either - gasoline taxes and other subsidies ore necessary to pay for the building and upkeep of roads. The four options looked at by the CBO in 2003 were:
  1. Eliminating federal subsidies and shutting down service;
  2. Ending national service and focusing instead on passenger rail's strongest areas (relatively short, densely populated corridors, such as the Northeast and parts of California);
  3. Keeping national long-distance service as it is today but upgrading the corridors; and
  4. Substantially improving Amtrak's entire network through a major increase in funding, with a view to giving rail a much bigger role in transportation between U.S. cities.
Option 1 is dead. Rail travel is not going to be shut down. Subsidies will continue and increase.

Option 2 becomes more viable, not only for what were considered densely populated corridors, but for others previously considered less densely populated. Cities that had not considered rail are going to be looking at it seriously. Of the largest ten metropolitan areas in the U.S., five (all in the sun belt) became large since WW II and do not have rail nets. That will change. Texas has Dallas-fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio withing 250 to 300 miles of each other, and the price of air travel will strongly encourage intercity rail.

Option 3 depends on whether the airline industry can create a business model and obtain new, more efficient aircraft that again becomes profitable for travel between cities inside the U.S. that are not on the two coasts. Where rail was viable out to about 300 miles one-way, that distance will sharply increase. The price of oil and the efficiency of aircraft will determine what that new distance will be, and rail is going to move out to any viable destination in the new limits. That also means that high-speed commuter rail is going to become viable inside the U.S. Expect the airlines to fight this. Southwest Airlines killed intercity rail between Dallas-fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio and Austin several years ago. The won't go quietly.

Option 4. By now this is a given. Rail is coming back, both for passengers and for cargo. Passenger travel will become a lot more popular for longer distances, and rail is going to replace trucks for long distance cargo runs.

The automobile, powered by cheap gasoline and augmented by the Interstate Highway system, created much of the lifestyle that we presently consider to be typical America. Cheap gasoline made it possible. Now cheap gasoline is gone, and there is no viable replacement. Reagan killed Jimmy Carter's research on alternatives, remember? (Typical short-sighted conservatism.) America's life style is changing sharply and doing so very quickly.

Anyone who doesn't want to be roadkill in the changed America needs to plan for it and quickly act on those plans.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Behind McCain's "Not a Bush Republican" image

The Republicans desperately do not want to lose the Presidency, but they know full well that Bush has badly damaged the "Republican" brand image. So how do they deal with running a Republican candidate they can trust when the public dislikes and distrusts the current Republican President?

Digby explains what they are doing. They are running the one candidate who could possibly be branded as "Not a real Republican."
When faced with the total repudiation of their most precious ideals in the wreckage of the worst presidency ever, they picked the one guy in their whole party who any voter could possibly believe wasn't a loyal Bushie. The only thing they required was that he was a bloodthirsty sonofabitch who would keep the flame of war alive. He is happy to oblige.

How do the Republicans do that, when McCain has a conservative voting record most conservatives would die for?

They orchestrate people like Ann Coulter, Laura Ingrahm, Bill Bennet and Rush Limbaugh to read him out of the party. Independents love that. The Republican strategists then use this to feed into the media love-affair with McCain as the "straight-talking maverick." The media has already bought the "Not a Republican of the Bush-type" myth. All of this is aimed at the independents who want to like the McCain of media myth.

As for the Republican base, they know that they want to win, and the media extravaganza isn't going to change their minds. Again from Digby:
It's not that they don't care about McCain's heresy on campaign finance reform and illegal immigration, or despise him for his sanctimony. But they don't care about that more than McCain's national security policy, which is their obsession, and raison d'etre. McCain is their best hope to win and continue the glorious GWOT.

He kissed all the right hems and he made all the right pilgrimages to the social conservatives and that is what they require. (In fact, like many petty tyrants, they actually prefer it when the person requesting an audience is insincerely seeking their favor. It's a sign of their power.) McCain embraces the conservative label and will let them have their way as much as he can get away with --- certainly on judges ---because he just doesn't give a damn about them. They know this. It's all about war with him. It's what he does.
So that's the strategy we are seeing played out. Sell McCain as the "Not-Bush" maverick to the independents while getting the Republican rank-and-file to fall in line and vote to keep the Presidency with "a bloodthirsty sonofabitch who would keep the flame of war alive."

The reports that the Republicans are having difficulty getting organized and raising money for this campaign are encouraging, but I am also suspicious of a head-fake. Even if it's not, if the election gets close and it begins to look like McCain has a chance, there is a lot of Republican money and desire out in the hinterlands that can be quickly marshaled behind the McCain candidacy.

The only part I don't yet see clearly is what their mechanism will be for getting out the base vote. At this point I'd guess that revolves around a combination of racism, Rev. Wright, Obama is a Muslim, and the lapel flag-pin. There will be more than that, though. It's early in the general election campaign and the armies are only just now lining up and getting into position for the battle to come. If, somehow, Hillary pulls off a big surprise and gets the Democratic nomination the same methods will be in place, just different messages. They've had eight years to put the anti-Hillary messages into the can.

Combine this with more Voter Suppression efforts in key locations like Florida and Ohio, and McCain has a good shot at getting elected and continuing the Iraq War as long has he is in office.

Let's hope it doesn't work. This analysis doesn't consider what the Democrats are going to bring to the party, and it only alludes to the environment the general election will be run in. None of that is yet clear.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The media madness about McCain

Is the media presenting a rosy fantasy about who McCain is? Consider this by Matt Welch.

Matt Welch wrote the book "McCain: The Myth of a Maverick".

As this list shows, the media clearly had not read that book.

How the Pentagon has controlled the news on Iraq

We know that the TV news and media in general simply hasn't bothered to cover the news of the war of the occupation of Iraq for nearly a year-and-a-half now. But today the New York Times presents the story of how the news since before the invasion of Iraq has been manipulated by the Pentagon to present only what the Pentagon and the Bush administration want the public to hear. It's been a lot more than just Judy Miller at the New York Times.

The debate on Iraq has been one-sided since before there was a war and American occupation there. It's another failure of the American media, one slightly ameliorated by this New York Times report on that failure.

Glenn Greenwald weighs in on the story. He puts it into perspective. The story, while well-documented now, was originally reported in 2003.

Glenn also makes another point that shows the incompetence of the TV political media.
Having just watched more Sunday news shows than a human being should ever have to endure, it is striking -- though unsurprising -- that not a single one saw fit to mention this NYT story demonstrating that these news programs all fed government propaganda to their viewers. That they refuse to comment on this story and will now black it out says as much about what they really are, and what they really do, as the NYT story itself does.
This is just another nail in the coffin of the beltway TV news, added to the disaster of the ABC TV Democratic debate media "gotcha-attack" moderated by Stephanopolous and Gibson.

Add to this the clear preference the news media has shown for John McCain as a Presidential candidate along with their refusal to question his many gaffes and idiocies and it's no wonder that the American public is so uninformed. The media is extremely one-sided, spinning the positives and burying the negatives on those it supports while blowing the negative stories about those they oppose out of all proportion. In addition, the media makes a practice of building meaningless stories that show conflict just to build their own ratings and stoke the egos of the anchors.

It's a good thing we have the internet - for as long as it remains uncontrolled.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Pope Spoke

Jay Leno points out that the Pope today addressed those at the Mass. He spoke out against Evil.

Then Dick Cheney stood up to present the rebuttal.

Stephanopolous defends ABC; Ed Kilgore eviscerates that defense

The nasty Republican-oriented questions that Stephanopolous and Gibson threw at Obama and Clinton last night had a reason, according to Stephanopolous. They were intended to focus on the subject that ABC thinks is uppermost in Democratic voter's minds right now - who is more electable in November. Or so George stated in his defense of the disaster last night.

Ed Kilgore destroys that explanation handily.
  • Apparently Gibson and Stephanopolous know in advance what is going to make either Obama or Clinton electable next October. No one else does.
  • How does S know that is currently in the forefront of voter's minds today? Who'd he ask? Or is it just floating in the air above the heads of the inside-the-beltway political media?
  • Did they even bother to try to measure electability by head-to-head general election trial polling? (Of course not. They are the super-journalists drawing the big bucks because they are TV personalities and superior to everyone else.)
  • Did it occur to them that they could better measure electability by asking Obama and Clinton how they would go about criticizing McCain, his platform and his record? The general election isn't going to be all about "Gotcha" questions. (Hey! That'd wouldn't show what super questioners Stephanopolous and Gibson are, would it? They wouldn't get to show off like Tim Russert does.)
Ed explains what is really behind the disaster. ABC needed to beat NBC and CBS in that time slot, and conflict does that. Addressing questions the voters really want to hear the candidates address and really need to get answered just wouldn't deliver the conflict and ratings.

ABC got some ratings (but Jay Leno says American Idol still creamed them.) They also lost massive amounts of credibility.

What's the ruckus all about? Talking Points Memo presents a set of highlights from the disaster debate.

I don't always agree with Ed Kilgore, who is a Democratic Leadership Council semi-Republican. But this time he nailed it.

Digby describes how the ABC treatment of Clinton and Obama comes out to the conservative frame. Stephanopolous has bought into the frame so deeply that he does not even realize taht he is conservative attack dog instead of a journalist.

The debate was apparently just sad

I had other things to do, so I missed the debate last night. At least I didn't waste my time watching it. That's about the best news I can offer.

Apparently Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos of ABC have shown that they can do for political reporting what reality shows like "Cops" have done to prime time TV.

Perhaps they are attempting to get new jobs on E!, but I'd bet they can't do gossip about-celebrities-as-news any better than the did political reporting last night.

It's clear that the use of corporate media personalities to run presidential debates should be ended. Those organizations and people no longer do news.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Obama strikes back hard!

This is really good. You want a fighter for a Democratic nominee for President? Obama just put out a fund raising letter that says:
A few days ago, Barack spoke about the frustrations that working people in this country are feeling and said what we all know is true: that many people are bitter and angry because they believe their government isn't listening to them.

...our opponents have been spinning the media and peddling fake outrage around the clock. John McCain's campaign, which will continue the George Bush economic policies that have devastated the middle class, called Barack out of touch and elitist. And Hillary Clinton, who is the candidate who said lobbyists represent real people, didn't just echo the Republican candidate's talking points: she actually used the very same words to pile on with more attacks.
So Hillary is no better than the Republicans.

That's good on so many levels!

The current status of the Democratic primaries and the general election

Here's where I think we are right now.

Obama's increase in Pennsylvania has apparently been blunted, but not reversed. See CNN Politics and from TPM, More PA Polls. TPM also posted this analysis from TPM reader YA which may describe the current state of play in Pennsylvania - that it shows no real change from a week ago. Here is why I don't think that matters much. The Democratic primary contest for the Presidential nominee is winding down fast. The end of the contest will come suddenly -and for many shockingly. [I don't know if the political media is too dense to recognize this, or if they don't dare point the the rapidly nearing end because that would eliminate the apparently important conflict that they are reporting to attract more readers/viewers. Nothing stops both from being true, of course.]

Let's look at the list of remaining primaries and caucuses.
April03ThurDistrict of ColombiaDemCauc38---
-05SatVirgin Islands---RepOther06
-06TuesNorth CarolinaDemPrim134RepPrim69

13TuesWest VirginiaDemPrim39---

-03TuesSouth DakotaDemPrim23RepPrim27
-07SatPuerto RicoDemCauc56---

[full list is found here.]

The Pennsylvania Primary is next Tuesday, and it's not going to change the lead Obama has nationally over Clinton, so Hillary is running to change the votes of the superdelegates. That's now extremely unlikely. Unless there is a clear crisis between now and late June that clearly marks Obama as unable to win the general election, the superdelegates are not going to overturn the delegate decisions made by Democrats in the primaries and caucuses.

Why won't the superdelegates overturn the primary/caucus results? Doing that would alienate so many Democratic voters that McCain would have an easy walk to the White House. The function of the superdelegates is to place the position of the Democratic Party as top priority, something that cannot be accomplished by throwing the Presidential Election to the Republicans. Losing the general election would be very bad for the party. The Democratic superdelegates are political professionals. They know what is happening and they are not going to throw the election, no matter how much the media and Hillary supporters want to create the impression they might. It's that simple.

Barring a catastrophic disaster by or to Obama, the Democratic nomination race is over. That's why we are seeing the shift into the general election with the ad describing McCain as out of touch and linking him to Bush and the DNC lawsuit against McCain over his abuse of the public financing system.

I'll admit that I never thought the Democratic primaries would run from January into April, and the uncertainty at this late date is unsettling to say the least. But here in Texas it has galvanized Democratic voters like I have never before seen on the Democratic side. (The Republicans here have been galvanized since Goldwater, with a short period of confusion after the Watergate crisis.) I give it through May 20th at the latest, and then Hillary is going to decide to drop out and will hug Obama and promise her full support in his race for the Presidency.

Following about a week or two of confusion among Hillary supporters, which will be filled with Democrats and Democratic ads attacking McCain and exhorting all Democrats to recognize who their real enemy is, the party will turn full bore on McCain. Disappointment over Hillary's loss of the nomination is not going to hide who the real opponent tis election.

The Democratic primaries have created a long period of excitement and hope, and this long period of excitement is going to be focused on McCain. The Republican 527 groups like Freedom's Watch are not getting the needed donations to counter the expected attacks on McCain. McCain will wither in the face of the excitement like a daisy in a firestorm.

The firestorm will be fueled by Iraq, the Recession, Bush's lawlessness in office (especially his recent admission of approving torture and the White House staff directing how individual prisoners are tortured) and the general dissatisfaction of the American voting public with Republican misrule. Take all of this and add the excitement, energy and political direction that Democrats have developed during this primary season, and I think this is going to be a very good election for Democrats.

With some luck, Progressives are going to send a number of new members to Congress also. This business of having an extreme right-wing corporatist party and a mild right-wing corporatist party is going to fade quickly. This nation has real problems that can only be dealt with by some rather radical changes in governance, and the Republicans, with the assistance of the Blue Dog Democrats have been supporting the entrenched powers that will lose a lot when those changes are made. The health care crisis is the most obvious example of the current crises. (See this video about Charlie Rose's interview with T. R. Reid regarding the Frontline documentary "Sick around the world".)

The U.S. Constitution was designed, largely by Southerners, to allow a significant minority to block radical legislation - like outlawing slavery - unless there is an overwhelming majority in favor of the change*. That was a key part of the set of compromises that allowed the colonies to join in an effective central government after the problems created by the Articles of Confederation. The New Deal was the result of such an overwhelming majority of Americans in favor of radical changes in how America was governed. So was the period during the late Civil Rights Movement when LBJ passed the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights legislation.

We are, I think, entering another such time when there is an overwhelming majority ready for big changes in American governance. John McCain and his supporters see this time of change coming towards us and McCain is the man who intends, as Bill Buckley once colorfully described his own conservatism, to stand in the way of history and cry "Halt!"

I predict that McCain and what he stands for is about to become political road kill. That's what this general election, just now beginning, is all about.

* When that politically overwhelming American majority elected Lincoln President and appeared about to outlaw slavery in spite of the difficulties the structure of the Constitution placed in their way, the Southern states attempted to succeed from the Union and the South Carolinians fired on Fort Sumpter, starting the Civil War.

Radical change can elicit radical reaction. Some Republicans are going to be tempted.

Obama's response to the "Obama is Elitist and out of touch" attack

Here, from TPM Election Central, is a robo-call being presented in Pennsylvania.

It looks like an excellent response, and it clearly sets this issue up for the Fall against McCain.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Here's who McCain really is.

This ad will start on cable tomorrow, and will be seen in Washington, D.C. on MSNBC and CNN. The ad is called "Out of Touch."

It's about time the Democrats started telling the voters who McCain really is.

My apologies for the dearth of postings

I am taking a couple of computer courses (web programming and computer security) and it is getting down towards the end of the semester. As a sixty-five year-old returning to school (again) I fear that I have procrastinated by blogging, and now it is catching up with me. So I did two take-home exams and my income taxes over the weekend instead of offering my insights/rants to the readers.

I do the blogging largely to clarify my own thoughts, and there are other ways to learn things, so sometimes the blogging takes short shrift. I hate to disappoint you (yeah, you from the ISP out of Hyattsvill, Md who checked in three times this morning and found nothing new - whoever you are), but there it is. The world does not revolve around blogger and the political blogosphere.

Not yet, anyway. Soon we will have October.

Obama: Elitist or just intelligent and curious?

Barack Obama is catching some flack from the media for his so-called "elitist" view expressed in San Francisco that small town Americans feel left behind by the economy and are bitter, have no hope that the government will do anything about that, and so they vote on the basis of guns, religion and opposition to "outsiders" (illegal immigrants, gays, etc.)

Rasmussen reports a poll which he says shows that "56% disagree with Obama's comments on small town America." Here is the specific wording of key questions:
2* Obama said that in small towns in Pennsylvania, people “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations." Do you agree or disagree?

25% Agree
56% Disagree
19% Not sure

3* Senators Clinton and McCain said Obama’s comments showed he was out of touch with hardworking Americans. Do Obama’s comments reflect an elitist view of small-town America?

45% Yes
37% No
18% Not sure

4* In response, Obama said, “No, I'm in touch. I know exactly what's going on. I know what's going on in Pennsylvania, I know what's going in Indiana, I know what's going in Illinois. People are fed up. They're angry and they're frustrated and they're bitter, and they want to see a change in Washington.” Do you agree or disagree?

56% Agree
32% Disagree
12% Not sure
When reading Rasmussen's interpretation of the results, you have to remember that Rasmussen is a Republican pollster. He shades his comments to make Republicans look better and Democrats look worse. Also, look at question #3. It literally creates the impression of elitism by the way it is written. This is not a poll intended to determine what the voters believe. It is a poll intended to direct the voters towards what the pollster wants them to believe, and as such reinforces the similar message that the media, Hillary Clinton and John McCain all want the voters to believe. Notice how the voters change in question #4 so that 56% agree with Obama and only 32% disagree about whether small town voters feel bitter.

Consider the issue in two parts. First, Obama described how small town voters feel angry, frustrated and bitter, and they want change in Washington. There is strong agreement there, and this is not something that no other Democrat has stated. Here is a very similar statement that Senator Webb made in 2006. It is the second part that has upset a more people. That is the part in which Obama stated people “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

Question #2 was clearly designed by Rasmussen to conceal that there really is a class-related bitterness that Obama is tapping into, as was Sen. Jim Webb before him. As you watch the various proposals from the administration, McCain and the Republicans for dealing with the current economic crisis, look at who they are helping - it's all money for the banks and investors, while (as Atrios points out:
No mercy shown for those who flee mortgage loans

KENNETH R. HARNEY | Washington Post Writers Group
April 13, 2008

WASHINGTON—The country's two largest sources of mortgage money have a blunt warning for anyone thinking about joining the "walkaway" trend, where homeowners stop making payments and months later send the house keys to their lender: You will feel the pain.

On March 31, Fannie Mae sent out new guidelines to lenders aimed at walkaways and other foreclosure situations. Fannie will prohibit foreclosed borrowers from getting another mortgage through it for five years, unless there are "documented extenuating circumstances." In those cases, the prohibition is three years.
This is designed to protect the lenders from those disrespectful homeowners who have just learned that they are stuck in mortgages that are much higher than the property is actually worth and refuse to pay and bail out the lenders who stupidly overvalued the property to make the high fees for originating a mortgage they then resold and stuck investors with.

The homeowners who were handed an overpriced home are going to be penalized if they don't bail out the lenders holding the fraudulently established mortgage contract. Fraudulently established? What else can you call a mortgage based on inflated valuations and issued just to make the excessive fees mortgage brokers get? They didn't need to worry because they immediately resold the mortgage to investors around the world (because the rating agencies gave the packages of mortgages AAA ratings. If they didn't, the seller with to a rating agency who would give that AAA rating and the first rating agency lost the business and the fees.) and got out from under any loss.

That's protecting the wealthy and their bankers from their own stupidity and greed, sticking the individual homeowner with paying the inflated costs. That's class warfare from the top down.

That's also the same people who are trying to paint Barack Obama as some kind of elitist because he is bright, well-educated and curious. They're also the same very wealthy upper classes trying to sell McCain as a war hero and as a maverick "everyman." That's John McCain, the guy who was sixth from the bottom in his class at Annapolis and whose only post-graduate education was 2 1/2 years technical training in how to fly Navy jets and 5 1/2 years in the Hanoi Hilton nearly four decades ago. The John McCain who can't remember that there is a difference between Sunni's and Shiites in Iraq, whose foreign affairs advisers are the same Neocons who got American into the occupation of Iraq, and who frankly admits that he knows little or nothing about economics (and so he depends on the advice of ex-Senator Phil Gramm who was one of the major persons who deregulated investment banks causing first Enron and now the credit melt-down.)

So the media/Republican spin is that we don't want a candidate who is bright, well-educated and curious. We want another (fake) "everyman" like George W. Bush who certainly fails in the well-educated and curious categories.

And the Republicans have just the guy for us. John McCain. Not too smart, a well-deserved reputation for an explosive temper, but carefully branded as a maverick. (See the video.) Another fake "John Wayne" cowboy. The Republicans gave us "cowboy" Reagan from California, "cowboy" Bush from Texas and now they want to hand us "cowboy" McCain from Arizona.

Keep watching the spin from the media and from Rasmussen. They are practicing class warfare on the rest of us.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Is Russia involved with FARC in Colombia?

Comments by Victor Bout and Russia's complaints in how he is being treated in Thailand after his arrest lead Emptywheel to wonder how the arms to the FARC, the arrest of Victor Bout and the Colombian cross-border attack against the FARC camp in Ecuador are related.

Mother Jones provides a detailed description of the DEA sting that nabbed Victor Bout. The article gives an interesting summary of Bout's career:
FOR SOMEONE SO POLITICALLY connected in so many places, Bout's personal history, all the little pieces that make up the man, has remained the stuff of urban legend. He is variously described as having been born in the Soviet republics of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, or Ukraine. He is married and has a daughter who lives in Spain, as well as a brother named Sergei in Moscow, also believed to be active in the arms-smuggling business. He is known to hold as many as five passports in various aliases and speaks at least six languages, including Russian, Uzbek, Portuguese, French, English, and perhaps several African dialects. As a young man, his language talents were developed at the Soviet Military Institute of Foreign Languages in Moscow, a primary recruiting vehicle for the GRU, the Soviet military intelligence service. Whether Bout became a GRU officer remains unknown (there is speculation he joined the KGB), but his post-Soviet career bears a striking similarity to one of the GRU's primary Cold War tasks: the provision of weapons to communist movements around the world. Bout, for his part, was unimpressed by Marxist politics, but the basic mechanics of moving large quantities of military equipment to remote locations he might easily have mastered while in the GRU's employ.

After the Soviet Union's implosion, Bout went into business for himself, using his connections to gain access to mountains of former Warsaw Pact weapons and ammunition and buying up the old military cargo aircraft required to move them. There were plenty of paying customers to be served, and in the years that followed, Bout served them all, often working for both sides of a conflict to double his profit. He armed the Taliban and the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, the Revolutionary United Front in Sierra Leone, Charles Taylor's regime in Liberia, UNITA in Angola, various Congolese factions, and Abu Sayyaf, a militant Islamic group in the Philippines. As recently as 2006, says Farah, the arms dealer was believed to be making shipments to the Islamic Courts Union in Somalia and Hezbollah in Lebanon, among many others.
We can hope that more comes out on this story. Something is swimming around in sewers here, and it's as big as the Lake Ness Monster. We may get lucky and learn what it is.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

McCain offers a "Herbert Hoover" non-action to those being foreclosed

According to TPM Reader YA McCain, representing the elitist Republicans, asked two weeks ago
"how 4 million mortgages [could] cause this much trouble for us all," and suggested that if those borrowers just took fewer vacations and managed their budgets more effectively, they wouldn't be in trouble."
Let's remember now, he was a fighter pilot and a war hero forty years ago, but he graduated 6th from the bottom in his class of Annapolis. Not quite as bad as George Custer who graduated at the very bottom of his West Point class before leading his 7th Cav troops into disaster at the Little Big Horn, but this certainly indicates that McCain is not the sharpest tack in the box.

McCain parleyed his war hero status and a second marriage to a wealthy woman into a career in politics, but there is no indication that he ever got a lot smarter. Apparently he did catch some flack for his indifference to those who are having their homes foreclosed, so YA says he offered a new non-plan that conceals his indifference, but does nothing significant for the people being foreclosed. Here is YA's report on the new plan:
Today, he promised to help "every deserving American family or homeowner." So how many American families are deserving? McCain's top economic policy adviser, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, places the number between 200,000 and 400,000 households; just those families "who really need help."

Great. So to be clear, McCain thinks that millions of Americans are going to lose their homes, and all but a few hundred thousand are just getting what they deserve. Specifically, he's prepared to step forward and help only those who:

-Took out a subprime loan after 2005

-Can prove they were "creditworthy" at the time

-Are unable to pay that subprime loan

-But could pay a 30-year fixed rate loan

Of course, pretty much all those folks already qualify for assistance under the existing FHASecure program. McCain's proposal offers greater leverage over recalcitrant lenders, and shoulders some of the cost of restructuring the loans, but virtually everyone who meets his guidelines is already eligible for help. [Snip]

it's typical Republican bamboozlement. McCain says that perhaps a few hundred thousand homeowners deserve ever so slightly more help than they're already receiving, but that millions of others should lose their homes. And
it's worth pointing out that most analysts agree that the number of folks who would be helped by this plan is probably much smaller than Holtz-Eakin estimates. There's really not much difference between his initial position and his bold new plan - they both amount to inaction.
There it is. McCain has moved from indifference to the people being foreclosed to a refined plan that can be used to conceal the indifference but still does nothing effective.

Nothing effective to deal with the housing crunch and the Recession. That's Bush's position, also, and both are channeling that great conservative, Herbert Hoover, who similarly watched America sail into financial disaster and refused to act.

YA adds one more comment:
"John McCain says he'd be happy to see our troops in Iraq for another hundred years," the Democrats would do well to add, "John McCain says that millions of Americans deserve to lose their homes."
In the America that the conservatives are working hard to create there is no America, just a lot of individuals who are each on their own to fight, steal, rob and screw those around them to get ahead economically. The elite are the wealthy (like McCain) who are protected by their wealth. This is the Reagan Revolution, also known as the YoYo economy. That's "You're on your own," something demonstrated when Katrina hit New Orleans.

The World War II generation must be rolling in their graves as they watch Bush and his clone, McCain working to destroy America and pick its bones for their own wealth. But hey! The news media (especially FOX) has declared McCain a Maverick and he is a well-known war hero, so maybe he's good enough to elect President, right? Here is the example:

He'll just move in to the White House in time for his nap, I guess. He doesn't plan to take any actions, but at his age, he probably shouldn't exert himself too much anyway. A lot like Bush, who doesn't have the excuse of age, but has the same elitist idea that government is for and of the wealthy elites and the rest of us are here at their sufferance.

Obama understands problem; McCain wants to blow them up in macho man style

Do voters elect a President because of his suitability to deal with the problems the nation is facing, or because they like the guy? Democrats run Presidential campaigns based on the problems, Republicans run campaigns based on personal
Digby references a Dick Morris newspaper column in which Morris, responding to poll results, lays out the way this Presidential campaign is going to be fought:
Obama won the traditional Democratic (and female) virtues of understanding problems and caring about people. McCain won the usual Republican (and male) virtues of strong leadership and efficient management.
Digby offfers a great reply to Morris:
The question is whether or not people believe that "strength" is really defined in such simple terms after observing the idiot Bush up close for eight years. It's theoretically possible that they will see McCain as a "strong adult" while Junior was an overgrown teen-ager, but I don't know if they trust their instincts on any of this as much as they used to. They thought Bush's swagger and stubbornness were traits of masculinity and strength after all, and they were proven to be adolescent preening.

Then there are the other big issues of age and race, which also play into masculine stereotypes. This one isn't quite an uncomplicated as Morris thinks, although I'm quite sure he's right about Republican intentions. They are very good at tapping into the masculine leadership archetypes and base all their campaigns on them. The fact that they were able to turn a draft dodging party boy into a hero and a hero into a flip-flopping sissy is testament to how good they are at it.

In my opinion, the GOP's hyper-macho, strutting, codpiece wearing flyboy ran the country firmly into the ditch in virtually every way possible has likely made people yearn for a thoughtful, intelligent president who understands their problems. I'd bet at least 51% do anyway.
Whatever, it looks like the Democrats are going to run this campaign on the basis of whether the voters believe the Republican fantasies or their own personal experience augmented by a clear definition of who McCain really is. This is from The Hill. laying out what the reporters believe that the DNC Chair Howard Dean is saying:
DNC Chairman Howard Dean and Democratic pollsters said the presumptive GOP presidential nominee is vulnerable to charges he is not the independent voice he claims to be, criticized the Arizona senator for changing his position on key issues and claimed he is ignorant of the economy.

Dean and the pollsters said McCain has been “wishy-washy” on both immigration and the Bush tax cuts. Their polls showed people do not think McCain is an independent voice when they are told of his relationships with lobbyists affiliated with his campaign.

Dean argued McCain would have been a threat to compete for independent swing voters had he won the GOP nomination in 2000. Since then, he has changed on too many positions and tacked too far to the right to win their votes now.

“He has damaged his own brand dramatically since 2000,” Dean said. “Many of his wounds are self-inflicted.” [Snip]

Dean has focused much of his criticism on McCain’s assertion that he would not be opposed to an American presence in Iraq for the next 100 years. “When you mention 100 years and Iraq in the same sentence [to focus groups], it doesn’t matter what John McCain’s qualifying statements are, it just killed him. It just killed him,” Dean said on Thursday.
These reports make it appear that the Presidential race is going to be run based on the character of the two opponents, with the reality of what Americans are facing (and what the voters expect the President they directly elect to deal with) as the environment within which they evaluate the candidates for President. That makes character (as defined by the media and by the advertisements, primarily TV) into the primary issue that drives how voters choose.

Character is defined by many voters, recently a majority, as someone who quickly recognizes the nature of the problems and immediately starts to solve it. Threat to America? Bomb them and invade if that's not enough. That worked in 2004, but by 2006 enough voters recognized that more combat was not solving the problem caused by the invasion of Iraq.

Now we have the economic crisis. That's the crisis that Bush and his boys don't want to deal with for fear of causing more problems than they solve. That's the Herbert Hoover solution. John McCain agrees. The bankers and elite rich need to be bailed out, but everyone else is left on their own. That's the YoYo solution. You're on your own. No government will step in, since you aren't rich or a banker.

Can the myth of McCain's war hero status allow him to skate on solving the economic problems the middle class are having be enough? I have my opinion, but we won't really know until November 5th.

Katie Kouric to leave CBS News early. Good riddance.

The Wall Street Journal reports today that there is a strong likelihood that Katie Kouric will leave CBS News shortly after the Presidential inauguration in January 2009. Her contract, which (over)pays her $15 million a year, runs through 2011.

It is my opinion that her alleged interviewing skills have never suited her for the job of reading daily news headlines, and I find her unctuous, earnest voice resembles that anonymous voice on the phone telling you "I'm sorry, sir, your electricity will not be restored for several more days. No sir, there is nothing that can be done faster. Our crews are working has fast as they can." It blurs into that "Wah Wah Wah" voice-sound used on a Charlie Brown TV special when the adults are talking.

I don't know if CBS News can recover, but getting rid of Katie Couric will be a good start at trying. That is a position for someone with a deep understanding of what makes good news reporting, and Ms. Couric has never had that. She is an entertainer, not a news person.

Her failure in the CBS News anchor position is not her fault. It is the fault of the management at CBS News who hired her and who also treated Dan Rather so badly as he was leaving.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

This is why we are getting such poor international news

dday at Hullabaloo explains it concisely:
...a function of news organizations needing to become profit centers and shutting down costly foreign bureaus, finding it easier to put two talking heads in a room together than do actual reporting, etc. The herd mentality and the hewing to familiar tropes and narratives takes effect from there, and it's important to push back.
This isn't the whole problem, of course, but it sets the entire news system up to provide poor, biased, or even non-existent coverage of places outside the U.S.

The result of the Petreaus hearings

Gen. Petreaus still can't tell us what benefit we get from the occupation of Iraq. That's the key result I have taken from yesterday's Senate hearings. What does the tremendous set of costs of our occupation of Iraq do to benefit America?

Note that McCain, when asked why we remain there, recycles an old Douglas MacArthur quote: "There is no substitute for Victory!" Apparently when the Marine Barracks in Lebanon was blown up killing about 245 Marines, Reagan should have occupied Lebanon or something, but instead he pulled the troops out of Lebanon. And the bad result was .... (crickets can be heard in the silence.)

Democracy Arsenal has a good summary of the results of the hearings. Here are some samples:
1. Petraeus and Crocker refuse to tell us what our long term strategy is in Iraq, holding to the weak excuse that they can't make predictions into the future. But they have no problem making scary predictions into the future about what will happen if we withdraw. Contradiction? We think so.

2. Senator Biden made Crocker admit that the threat from Al Qaeda central along the Afghan-Pakistan border is a higher priority than Al Qaeada in Iraq.

3. John McCain still seems to be confusing his Shi’a and his Sunnis. He seems to have this recurring problem and if he becomes President and does this in some international forum it will be REALLY REALLY bad.

4. Iran is the new Al Qaeda. A large portion of the questioning from Martinez, Lieberman, Graham was based on trying blame Iran from what happened in Basra. But as Senator Jack Reed pointed out the Iranians are actually supporting all of the various Shi’a groups in Iraq, including those in league with the central government.

Go read the summary.

Kevin Drum adds
Obama was able to hit Petraeus and Crocker very hard....He got Petraeus to agree with him that the total elimination of Al Qaeda is an impossible standard for withdrawal. Next he goes after Crocker's points about Iranian influence, pointing out that both Iran and Al Qaeda are in Iraq because we invaded and that we can not expect to eliminate Iranian involvement.

Then came the hammer. Obama pointed out that if the definition of success is put so high - no Al Qaeda, no Iranian influence, a prosperous diverse democracy we will be there forever. He then points out that we still, after 8 hours of testimony, have no definition of success....Crocker's weak response its "hard and complicated."
Essentially the White House and the American Republican Party are living in a fantasy world, and Gen. Petreaus and Crocker, as their designated men on the ground who are aware of the real facts (and who don't appear to be confusing conservative ideology for facts the way Jerry Bremer did when he headed the Coalition Provisional Government) refuse to contradict the fantastists and liars they work for.

The lesson of the hearings was that there is no possibility that the Bush administration will take any actions to get America out of the quagmire and military morass they have created in Iraq.

Addendum 1:24 PM
dday at Hullabaloo points out that Sen. Biden forced Amb. Crocker to admit that Al Qaeda on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border is a more important problem for America than Iraq is. Joe Biden also made the point that Congressional permission was required before America makes any long-term commitment to Iraq.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Amb. Crocker thought Maliki was going to move slowly in Basra

Ambassador Crocker learned March 21 that Maliki was going to use troops in Basra to bring order to the city, but he thought the plan was to methodically build up troops and gradually increase operations against the various Shiite militias and criminal gangs who have controlled it since the British pulled back from the city. What actually happened was that PM Maliki headed south and as the troops were still arriving he impulsively attacked. The government troops were not yet prepared for the attack they made, and did not expect the resistance they met. So the attack itself was not a surprise to American officials in Iraq, but the way it was done was not what was expected. According to Michale Gordon at the New York Times here is what happened:
The operation indicates that the Iraqi military can quickly organize and deploy forces over considerable distances. Two Iraqi C-130s and several Iraqi helicopters were also involved in the operation, an important step for a military that is still struggling to develop an air combat ability.

But interviews with a wide range of American and military officials also suggest that Mr. Maliki overestimated his military’s abilities and underestimated the scale of the resistance. The Iraqi prime minister also displayed an impulsive leadership style that did not give his forces or that of his most powerful allies, the American and British military, time to prepare.

“He went in with a stick and he poked a hornet’s nest, and the resistance he got was a little bit more than he bargained for,” said one official in the multinational force in Baghdad who requested anonymity. “They went in with 70 percent of a plan. Sometimes that’s enough. This time it wasn’t.”

As the Iraqi military and civilian casualties grew and the Iraqi planning appeared to be little more than an improvisation, the United States mounted an intensive military and political effort to try to turn around the situation, according to accounts by Mr. Crocker and several American military officials in Baghdad and Washington who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Two senior American military officers — a member of the Navy Seals and a Marine major general — were sent to Basra to help coordinate the Iraqi planning, the military officials said. Soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division were pressed into service as combat advisers while air controllers were positioned to call in airstrikes on behalf of beleaguered Iraqi units. American transport planes joined the Iraqis in ferrying supplies to Iraqi troops.
The whole operation brings into question the effectiveness of the Maliki government. News reports suggest that this brings into sharp question how well the Iraqi Army is trained. It might. The most difficult and time-consuming training is of mid-level leaders and staff members, and this doesn't look like they performed well. But even well-trained mid-level leaders would be overridden by an impulsive commander who wanted to get everything over with quickly. I'd say that the failed operation should first be blamed on Maliki and top commanders before impugning the training and experience of mid-level commanders and staffers. When the commanders make incompetent decisions, it is hard to say how well the subordinates are performing.

The other question that comes into view is what can the American occupiers of Iraq do that is of any value to America? It is clear that any quick departure by U.S. troops will very probably mean the Maliki government disappears. The very weakness of that government is a pressure on the U.S. to keep troops in Iraq.

But then you have to ask why? What do we get out of staying in Iraq beyond protecting an incompetent government that most Iraqis don't support? Aren't we really just enabling slow, lengthy chaos with no resolution in sight in order to prevent rapid chaos that will rapidly be resolved by the parties directly involved?

White House: Bush is really very in touch with the economy! Honest!

The other day, when asked how he would deal with $4 a gallon gas, President Bush gave the rather disconcerting reply that he had not heard predictions of $4 per gallon gas as most of us have. The clear impression he left was that he is "Out of touch with the Economy." That impression has been strongly reinforced by the fact that the discussions of the current economic problems has been handled by either fed chief Ben Bernanke or Secretary of Treasury Henry Paulson with no involvement by from Bush. It doesn't help Bush's image as a leader.

As a result, the White house media staff has had to respond to the criticism that Bush is out of touch with the economy. Here, according to the New York Times is what the White House media flacks said about bush:
“He is very much in touch with the economy,” said Tony Fratto, the deputy White House press secretary. “He is out in the country a lot."
Yeah, maybe Bush is in touch with the economy, particularly sine he is directly responsible for much of the current set of economic problems.

If I were in charge and as responsible for the current mess as he is, I'd be out of the country a lot, too.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Battle for Basra - worse for Maliki than we thought

Kevin Drum points to reports that many of Maliki's troops refused to fire on the Mahdi Army.

Those reports shows that Maliki is in much worse political shape than earlier reports have indicated.

The response from Bush and Bush-light (McCain) is going to have to be silence, lies or misdirection. This is not politically good for the American Republican administration that created the mess in Iraq, nor for the Republican old man who wants to replace Bush.

Supply side voodoo economics described by Ben Stein

Ben Stein recently addressed the idea the Republicans have pushed for the last three decades that tax cuts make the economy grow so much that government revenues increase.
the Republican Party (my party and yours) has for the last 30 years or so been operating under a demonstrably false and misleading premise: that tax cuts pay for themselves by generating so much economic growth that they replace the sums lost by tax cutting.

This would be a lovely thing if true, and the best of all ideas, the “something for nothing” idea. In fact, tax cuts lower federal revenue and generate federal deficits. It is also true that they do stimulate the economy and after a long period of years, federal tax receipts go back to where they were before the tax cuts.
[Editors note - but not because of the tax cuts. Inflation and the normal increase caused by the addition of an addition approximately 100,000 workers per month added to the economy simply because of growth of the population is more likely the reason for the increase in nominal tax revenue after tax cuts.]

For example, when President Bush enacted his tax cuts in the early 2000s, income tax receipts fell dramatically. It took almost six years for them to reach the level they had been in the last year of the Clinton administration, while G.D.P. in that period rose by roughly 30 percent.
So essentially Stein is saying that our society has built up huge financial obligations that must be paid. Tax cuts cannot be paid for out of waste and fraud, so they have to come from the revenue that would pay those obligations, forcing the government to borrow to pay them. That leads to huge deficits, with their attendant costs that also must be paid.

So then Ben addresses those deficits and their costs.
...immense federal deficits in modern life are financed largely by foreign buyers of our debt. This means that the American taxpayer must work a good chunk of the year to send money to China, Japan, the petro-states and other buyers of United States debt. In effect, we become their peons.

By flooding the world with debt, we in effect beg foreigners to take our dollars, and this leads to a lower value of the dollar and a higher cost of imports, including oil. If you feel pain filling up the tank, you can partly thank those tax cuts. If you feel the sting of inflation, you can partly thank the supply siders. Deficits matter.
Ben has the mechanism for the costs of the tax cuts down, and they are never repaid from tax cuts themselves. His attempt to show that they do result in increases in tax revenue after many years is a chimera, It's the logical fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc. His logic is that because years after a tax cut, government revenues increase, that increase must be because of the tax cut. That has to be true because the revenue increases after taxes were cut. Unfortunately, he cannot demonstrate why the two events are connected and cannot exclude all other reasons for the government revenue to increase in later years.

The real point is that Ben Stein, a committed Reagan conservative, is showing that tax cuts never pay for themselves. The increase government costs a the time they are enacted and the increases in costs are never paid back. In addition, the deficit spending has led to the inflation that is currently most obvious in oil prices and the price of food, but is building up in all parts of the American economy right now.

America is poorer now because of the Reagan Revolution and because of the related government mismanagement of the economy, particularly through Bush's ill-informed tax cuts when he inherited surpluses from his predecessor. We haven't felt it because Alan Greenspan pumped up housing prices through his low interest rates and encouraging real estate refinancing to pay credit card debt and because the federal government has been mortgaging our future revenue by borrowing to pay for its extravagant and misplaced war in Iraq.

Now we are beginning to really feel the costs of all this Republican/bush idiocy. We will feel it for a long time. And what will we have to do to deal with the set of problems that has been created by the Reagan Revolution and by Bush? Continued borrowing merely spreads the costs out to the average person through inflation in costs with no comparable inflation in incomes - except for the very wealthy because our current economy is designed to tax the poor and middle class and distribute the resulting income to the very rich. But that's another problem that needs to ba addressed. Excluding coninued borrowing to pay for taday's expenses, there are only two choices.
Those are either sharp reductions in Social Security and Medical care spending, or a tax increase.

No government that enacts the level of cuts required in those two programs will survive the following election. So the answer is going to have to be the second choice, tax increases. Ben Stein recognizes this also.
[W]hom to tax? The poor are, well, poor. The middle class is struggling to pay for its middle-class life. That leaves the rich. It would be lovely if we did not have to tax them. Many have worked hard for their money. Many have created useful businesses. Many of them are fine people.

But as Willie Sutton said when asked why he robbed banks, “Because that’s where the money is.” By definition, the truly rich have a lot more money than they need. If they don’t, then they are not rich by my standards. The first step toward putting our house in order, once we are past the seemingly looming recession, is much higher taxes on the truly rich and serious enforcement to prevent offshore tax evasion.

To put it even more starkly, the government — which is us — needs the money to keep old people alive, to pay for their dialysis, to build fighter jets and to pay our troops and pay interest on the debt. We can get it by indenturing our children, selling ourselves into peonage to foreigners, making ourselves a colony again, generating inflation — or we can have some integrity and levy taxes equal to what we spend.
So that's the program that is going to be enacted in the next four to eight years. Or at least after the worst recession since the Great Depression begins to let up, which I already don't think will be before late 2010 at the earliest.