December 2008 Archives

Merry Christmas

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Here's one of my all time favorites...

Sleigh 1

Hanging out in Santa's sleigh

What Astronauts Discovered in Space

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Do yourself a favor and go read this diary about what the astronauts discovered in space.

Items of Interest

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~ It seems there's a some splintering and falling out going on at the premier neocon think tank, AEI. Jacob Heilbrunn has the details. [via]

~ Dean Baker takes on the Washington Post which has chosen to allow an oped declaring that it's all of us who are responsible for the real estate bubble. He makes some good points. Pay attention WaPo.

~ Look at the list of who all wants to be a bank now that there's money with no strings attached available in the TARP fund. (Teeth grinding over the incompetence in the Treasury Department.)

~ Sully calls attention to Melissa Etheridge's post at HuffPo.

Brothers and sisters the choice is ours now. We have the world's attention. We have the capability to create change, awesome change in this world, but before we change minds we must change hearts. Sure, there are plenty of hateful people who will always hold on to their bigotry like a child to a blanket. But there are also good people out there, Christian and otherwise that are beginning to listen. They don't hate us, they fear change. Maybe in our anger, as we consider marches and boycotts, perhaps we can consider stretching out our hands.

Sounds like a good plan. As someone at dkos pointed out to one angry raver, sometimes you get a lot further with honey than you do with hate.

~ Another comment on the discussions over at dkos about Warren and gays that makes a lot of sense.

Ben Folds has a great line: "God help me if I'm right. I'm lonely and I'm right."

Did Warren and his ilk hurt the LGBT community? Yes. Did Obama reopen that wound by inviting him to give the invocation? Yes. Is bigot accurate? Sometimes; ignorance is much more applicable because most people simply don't know better. People can be unaware of their prejudice, and "bigot" is too harsh for those people. They need an eye-opening education, not a heart-closing insult. Using the word bigot on everyone else, because one is hurt, will just make one lonely in his/er rightness.

Actually the original diary and the discussion in comments on this particular diary is one of the more thoughtful and useful ones that I've seen. NCrissieB is a lawyer with an articulate writing style. Worth watching out for her posts.

Too many in Hebron

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Josh Marshall has a guest blogger at TPMCafe with an interesting insight on the state of affairs in Israel. Bernard Avishai writes about a visit to Hebron. Seeing up close the proximity of the Israeli Arabs and the radical settlers who are trying to take their land makes it clear that it's not a minor problem.

Thank you Tim DeChristopher

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Thank you Tim DeChristopher. Who is Tim DeChristopher you ask?

Well, here's what he did. [via]

He didn't pour sugar into a bulldozer's gas tank. He didn't spike a tree or set a billboard on fire. But wielding only a bidder's paddle, a University of Utah student just as surely monkey-wrenched a federal oil- and gas-lease sale Friday, ensuring that thousands of acres near two southern Utah national parks won't be opened to drilling anytime soon.

Tim DeChristopher, 27, faces possible federal charges after winning bids totaling about $1.8 million on more than 10 lease parcels that he admits he has neither the intention nor the money to buy -- and he's not sorry. [...]

The auction had been under way for a couple of hours when energy company representatives became suspicious of a man wearing an old red down parka after he won bids on more than 10 parcels numbered consecutively, all around Arches and Canyonlands.

They told BLM officials that the man, brandishing bidding paddle No. 70 and unknown to the regular buyers, also seemed to be bidding up on parcels, raising prices on leases that others eventually won.

The auctioneer took a break and police asked the man, later identified as DeChristopher, to leave the room. After questioning him for more than an hour behind closed doors, BLM and law-enforcement officials requested assistance from the U.S. Attorney's Office. [...]

After the auction, Kent Hoffman, the BLM's state deputy director for lands and minerals, announced there had been a bogus bidder. ... Hoffman said successful bidders who believed their offers had been run up illegally due could withdraw their bids.

BLM official Terry Catlin said the agency didn't want to reopen the bidding on the parcels DeChristopher snagged unless all interested parties were able to compete for the leases. That means the parcels won't be available again until at least February -- after Obama takes office -- during the next scheduled auction.

DeChristopher, who acknowledged upping other bids by about $500,000, said he would be willing to go to jail to defend his generation's prospects in light of global climate disruption and other environmental threats.

"If that's what it takes," he said.

Here's Tim's statement on why he stepped up at the auction. He's eloquent. Go thank him here and if you've got the resources, donate a little to his legal defense fund. He could use the help.

Matthew Yglesias » The New Moderate

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Matt Yglesias did a little plain speaking on his blog as he is wont to do. What happened next is more unusual. The self-described "acting CEO of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, Jennifer Palmieri, decided to post a note on Matt Yglesias's blog.

Poorly done Ms. Palmieri. This commenter detailed the reasons correctly. You've undercut Matt's credibility tremendously. Plus you've now begged the question: Just who can pressure CAP to change its positions and how often does this happen?

Not to mention that Third Way now looks like the crybaby on the playground. And to a much larger audience than would ever have read Matt's blog post in the first place. Front page of Daily Kos, Open Left, Atrios. And as of right now, your post is the #1 item on Mememorandum which also shows links from Salon, TalkLeft, American Power, Outside the Beltway, Brendan Nyhan, Rising Hegemon, Grasping Reality and The Jed Report.

Epic fail.

I suspect that you're another one of those inside-the-beltway types who doesn't really "get" blogs. You know they're there and that someone needs to pay attention to them but you don't really get how it all works. Well, pay attention.

You just hurt yourself, your organization and the organization that you were supposedly protecting. Which, as Matt so rightly pointed out, is a bunch of namby-pambies pushing a domestic agenda that's "hyper-timid incrementalist bullshit".

Jay Rosen adds his insight to the mess in this comment and I couldn't agree more.

You decided to have the wrong "tough" conversation. The tough conversation you should have had is with the people or person at Third Way who asked that you do something to separate yourself from this Matt Yglesias and his damn opinions. You should have told that person who Matt is, why he was hired and what he does at your site, rather than telling us about Third Way is and how supportive your Center is of their work. Your protected the wrong guy, put the wrong people on notice, undercut your own blogger, and-alas-now you are getting what you deserve.

One more thing: in the real world of the Web, as against the back-scratching fantasyland that you feel you can extend to the Web, the right way to handle this is for someone with a voice at ThirdWay to write a letter to Matt, objecting to his post. He'd run it, and there would be a debate. Instead you chose the cozy Washington way, and projected it onto the Web. Please learn from that.

Ms. Palmieri, alas, you've proved once again that inside the beltway = clueless.

AIG speaks on Daily Kos - literally

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Awhile ago an AIG media guy named Peter Tulupman responded to a post by one of the Front-pagers aka Contributing Editors at Daily Kos which, in turn, started the building of a list of questions for AIG. [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]

Look what's happened now.

This interactive format is not typical for most companies, including AIG. Our communications to the public have generally been our SEC filings, press releases, and presentations to investors, industry analysts, and other members of the investment community. But we understand our company is in a very different position since we received support from the U.S. government, and we wanted to try something different to be more accountable to taxpayers.

We know that there are tough questions out there. Some questions we may not be able to answer, and if that's the case, I will try to explain why. Other questions may take time to answer, as we gather accurate information from proper channels.

Finally, we know many questions will revolve around the day-to-day decisions AIG makes as a business. AIG's top priority is to pay back the U.S. government's investment in AIG. To do that, we have to make the decisions necessary to run our business successfully. We know that our business rationale for some of those decisions may not always be accurately portrayed by some, and that's one of the reasons that we want to do this forum, to explain how AIG's decisions are in the interest of maintaining the value of its businesses and repaying taxpayers.

We appreciate this opportunity, and hope that we can contribute constructively to the conversation on Daily Kos.

Peter Tulupman
AIG Media Relations

Props to AIG for going where the questions are. Just a note of caution. Language on the blogs tends to be rougher than that normally sanctioned in polite company so turn down your profanity sensitivity meter and listen to what they're really saying.

Read this and get mad

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Posted without comment from the New York Times:

Mr. Kim's colleagues, not only at his level, but far down the ranks, also pocketed large paychecks. In all, Merrill handed out $5 billion to $6 billion in bonuses that year. A 20-something analyst with a base salary of $130,000 collected a bonus of $250,000. And a 30-something trader with a $180,000 salary got $5 million.

But Merrill's record earnings in 2006 -- $7.5 billion -- turned out to be a mirage. The company has since lost three times that amount, largely because the mortgage investments that supposedly had powered some of those profits plunged in value.

Unlike the earnings, however, the bonuses have not been reversed.

As regulators and shareholders sift through the rubble of the financial crisis, questions are being asked about what role lavish bonuses played in the debacle. Scrutiny over pay is intensifying as banks like Merrill prepare to dole out bonuses even after they have had to be propped up with billions of dollars of taxpayers' money. While bonuses are expected to be half of what they were a year ago, some bankers could still collect millions of dollars.

Critics say bonuses never should have been so big in the first place, because they were based on ephemeral earnings. These people contend that Wall Street's pay structure, in which bonuses are based on short-term profits, encouraged employees to act like gamblers at a casino -- and let them collect their winnings while the roulette wheel was still spinning.

"Compensation was flawed top to bottom," said Lucian A. Bebchuk, a professor at Harvard Law School and an expert on compensation. "The whole organization was responding to distorted incentives."

Even Wall Streeters concede they were dazzled by the money. To earn bigger bonuses, many traders ignored or played down the risks they took until their bonuses were paid. Their bosses often turned a blind eye because it was in their interest as well.

"That's a call that senior management or risk management should question, but of course their pay was tied to it too," said Brian Lin, a former mortgage trader at Merrill Lynch.

There's more. Go read.

Well, maybe not completely without comment. Remember that this was brought to you courtesy of the Republicans and the Reagan Revolution and the attitude that government regulations are bad. And one really has to wonder how Alan Greenspan and Hank Paulson ever thought that the economy was solid back in 2005, 2006, and 2007. And given that they did and said so, why on earth would we listen to ANY advice they have to give now?

This is not a good thing

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The slow-motion demise of the print news media organizations leaves American democracy at risk. But it's in competition with the bad economic news, financial frauds, the ailing auto industry, and the last days of a pathetic Bush administration and it's not getting much coverage. The New York Times notes what's happening:

The much greater loss, the journalists say, is the decline of Washington reporting on local matters -- the foibles of a hometown congressman or a public works project in the paper's backyard. One after another, they cited the example of the San Diego paper's Washington bureau for exposing the corruption of Representative Randall Cunningham, who is known as Duke.

In accepting a Pulitzer Prize for that work in 2006, "we were bold enough to hope that it would be the first of many, but it turned out to be the high point," said George E. Condon Jr., the last bureau chief. "No matter how much great journalism is done by national organizations, they're simply not geared to monitor closely a member of Congress from, say, San Diego, who's not a national leader."


As bureaus shrink, they cut back on in-depth and investigative projects and from having reporters assigned to cover specific federal agencies.

"We used to cover the Pentagon, combing through defense contracts, and we're covering some of that out of Dallas now, but basically we don't do it anymore," said Carl Leubsdorf, chief of The Dallas Morning News bureau, which had 11 people four years ago, and now has four. "We had someone at the Justice Department, but no longer. We can't free someone up for a long time to do a major project."

Few newspapers travel with the president now -- only three or four on some trips -- where a dozen would have been the bare minimum a few years ago. For those that still participate, the shared cost of travel and the rotating burden of providing pool reports has soared. The Senate press gallery was recently remodeled in a way that left room for fewer reporters' carrels, and no one complained. [...]

"From an informed public standpoint, it's alarming," said Representative Kevin Brady, a Republican from the Houston area, who has seen The Houston Chronicle's team in Washington drop to three people, from nine, in two years. "They're letting go those with the most institutional knowledge, which helps reporters hold elected officials accountable."

An active and investigative press is an essential component of our democracy as recognized by our founders its inclusion in the First Amendment:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

Here's to hoping that the journalists and newspapers figure out how to uphold their responsibility to monitor our government on behalf of citizens everywhere. As much as we bloggers protest when they fail in some portion of holding the government responsible, the bottom line is that their role is an essential part of our democracy.

One does wonder if the greed that infected Wall Street has not also infected the corporate ownership and management of the news media organizations to the point of endangering their existence. When is too much profit squeezed from an organization that can't support it and remain viable in the long term? Who sets the line? Are they thinking about the importance of the press's mission to our democracy? I suspect the answer is no.

"A criminal enterprise launched by madmen"

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Paul Krugman picked out this quote from Matt Yglesias' post about confusing support of the troops with criticism of the missions selected by the Commander in Chief and his cronies.

The harsh reality is that this was not a noble undertaking done for good reasons. It was a criminal enterprise launched by madmen cheered on by a chorus of fools and cowards. And it's seen as such by virtually everyone all around the world -- including but by no means limited to the Arab world.

Krugman notes that Yglesias is both shrill and correct in opposing the tendency of many to rush past the faults, misdeeds and crimes of the Bush administration. As Krugman puts it:

Right now, there's a major effort underway to flush the sheer crazy/vileness of the Bush years -- and the cravenness of those who enabled it -- down the memory hole. We shouldn't let that effort succeed. The fact is that an American president deliberately misled the nation into war, probably for political gain -- and most of the country's elite went cheerfully along with the scam.

Yglesias and Krugman are both right. We must hold criminals responsible for law breaking. We are a country formed and based on the rule of law. It is the essential foundation of our country's existence and success. It necessarily includes criminals within government as well as without.

Yglesias made another point about the misdeeds of the last 8 years and their impact on the US role in world affairs.

But it's impolitic to point this out in the United States, and it's clear that even a president-elect who had the wisdom not to be suckered in by the War Fever of 2002 has no intention of really acting to marginalize the bad actors. Which, I think, makes sense for his political objectives. But if Americans want to play a constructive role in world affairs, it's vitally important for us to get in touch with the reality of what the past eight years of US foreign policy have been and how they're seen and understood by people who aren't stirred by the shibboleths of American patriotism.

The world is watching to see how we deal with putting our house in order and restoring the rule of law within the United States. President-Elect Obama's primary focus will likely be on restoring our economy and the people of the United States. But there must be some attention paid to the restoration of the rule of law. And the chattering classes who are so anxious to let bygones be bygones would do our country a huge favor if they would shut up.

The welfare kings on Wall Street

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Roger Cohen has written an ode to Pan Am and his days of travel on it. I remember flying on Pan Am myself and getting a plastic junior pilot wings pin. He goes onto to opine that perhaps the auto manufacturers should go the way of Pan Am along with some other imprecise and ill-informed maundering.

Not that the optimism of his outlook doesn't have appeal.

Churn -- of people and businesses -- has always defined America. Nobody subsidized U.S. Steel or the automaker Packard in the belief that the world without them was unthinkable.

Coming to the United States from Europe, I found this constant reinvention bracing. Look at the top 40 companies by market capitalization in Europe and most have been there for decades. Not in the United States, land of Google and eBay. Churn requires death as well as birth. The artificial preservation of the inert dampens the quest for the new.

That is true. New technology and innovation are tremendously appealing as economic fuels. But there are a few details missing from Mr. Cohen's summation and one of his commenters provides them in a heavily-reader-recommended response to Mr. Cohen's column. It is an excellent response to so many in government and media who chatter on about the automotive and manufacturing industry in the United States without real knowledge of what they are talking about.

It's all well and good to declare that the market should decide the fate of the auto companies, and that that's what keeps America dynamic, but the market, since becoming International, is not what it used to be. American manufacturers are forced to compete against countries that, for one thing, provide healthcare to their workers, instead of leaving it to the unions to fight for it. You suggest that we shouldn't go the way of European-style subsidies, but at the same time, we are being forced to compete with heavily subsidized manufacturers around the world. You blame the failure to produce the cars people want when in fact Detroit has produced precisely the cars (and trucks) that people wanted, at least until the price of gas went through the roof. Sure, there's plenty of blame to be directed at Detroit for short-sightedness and bad decisions, but this isn't only about Detroit. Our entire manufacturing base has been decimated because we are being forced to compete with countries that support their manufacturing bases, while at the same time refuse to allow us to export to them. Japanese can't buy American cars. Koreans can buy very few. Europeans do allow us to trade more freely, and General Motors as well as Ford are very successful in Europe manufacturing fuel-efficient, reliable cars. I believe the same is true for China, although I may be wrong on that one. A large part of the problem for General Motors is the cost of providing healthcare for former employees. In any civilized country, healthcare would be provided by the state, and at less of a cost.

We're all having fun beating up on the Detroit executives and the "greedy" unions and being so self-righteous about how they should be punished, but the truth is a bit more complicated. We're selling our manufacturing base, and our entire country, to the highest bidder. We give billions to banks with no questions asked. Politicians are getting rich. Oil companies are getting rich. Healthcare companies are getting rich. Workers, people who actually make things, are getting poor. That's what's killing dynamism. Where are our priorities?

-- Jim Doyle, Honolulu

When the average worker has no job, no income, no place to live, the economy comes to a halt. That's what the greedy financial types have actually been betting on. That they could get rich without creating too many of those out-of-work workers. Out-of-work workers created by sending their work overseas and with constant cuts in headcount creating the vaunted productivity increase, and for those who retained their jobs, cuts in their benefits, benefits whose loss is not underwritten by the government. Workers have been squeezed and abused and have not shared in the economic boom times. Their wages, if they have them, have stagnated, while CEOs' wages have soared and the average Wall Street worker gathers in unbelievable wealth.

In all of this boom time for business, one point has been repeatedly ignored. The worker at the bottom of the real economy is also the consumer who supposedly powers the economic engine of the country. And now we're finding out what happens when government, financial and business leaders give lip service to doing the best for the country and yet in reality have squeezed so hard that they've seriously injured their source of power, the American worker.

The Republican free market ethos that Reagan championed and Republicans since Reagan have propagated wildly without thought for consequence has finally met its end. And Bernard Madoff is the perfect symbol of the excess, the greed, the misdirection and lying that those policies have inflicted on our country. The only real question is, "How many more are there out there like him?" How many other leeches and parasites have drawn away wealth from the real economy?

So despite the "optimism" of the churn of the free market philosophy that Cohen finds so appealing, considerable resources must be spent on building back up the real engine of our economy, the workers. Their role in the equation has been reduced by all the free market proponents to that of a commodity whose price is to be minimized. Of course, when the economy relies on that same commodity to spend income that it doesn't have, it comes to a screeching halt.

The equation must be changed. A little less for the welfare kings on Wall Street and a little more for the workers on Main Street.

Peggy Noonan reminds us who we still are

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Peggy Noonan has written a WSJ column which she begins by noting the sense of loss and pessimism and the loss of faith in our institutions. As one woman whom she talked with put it,

"It's the age of the empty suit." Those who were supposed to be watching things, making the whole edifice run, keeping it up and operating, just somehow weren't there.

That's such an apt phrase to describe our current institutions. She goes onto to recount a conversation that she had with another friend who holds a position of some authority in Washington.

An old friend ... told me the other day, from out of nowhere, that a hard part of his job is that there's no one to talk to. I didn't understand at first. He's surrounded by people, his whole life is one long interaction. He explained that he doesn't have really thoughtful people to talk to in government, wise men, people taking the long view and going forth each day with a sense of deep time, and a sense of responsibility for the future. There's no one to go to for advice.

He senses the absence too.

It's a void that's governing us.

And that void, that predominance of empty suits has wrought a profound change in the confidence of the American people and a palpably real downturn in their lives. Depression, worry, insomnia, anger, tears. These are all part of the daily battle for so many Americans whose lives have been thrown into such turmoil by people epitomized by Bernard Madoff and the government agencies that failed to stop him.

Peggy must spend a lot of time chatting because she then reports a conversation with yet another friend about what the future holds for us.

People are angry but don't have a plan, and they'll give the incoming president unprecedented latitude and sympathy, cheering him on. I told a friend it feels like a necessary patriotic act to be supportive of him, and she said, "Oh hell, it's a necessary selfish act--I want him to do well so I survive. We all do!"

Well, Peggy, I'm glad to see that there are some Republicans who see that it's in their own self-interest to support President-Elect Obama. You might want to try passing that concept along to some Republican Senators.

And thank you, Peggy, for ending with this:

The other day I called former Secretary of State George Shultz, because he is wise and experienced and takes the long view. I asked if he thought we should be optimistic about our country's fortunes and future. "Absolutely," he said, there is "every reason to have confidence." He told me the story of Sumner Schlicter, an economics professor at Harvard 50 years ago. "He was not the most admired man in his department, but he'd make pronouncements about the economy that turned out to be right more often than his colleagues'." After Schlicter died, a friend was asked to clean out his desk, and found the start of an autobiography. "It said, I'm paraphrasing, 'I have had a good record in my comments on and expectations of the American economy, and the reason is I've always been an optimist. How did I get that way? I was brought up in the West, where the future is more important than the past, in a family of scientists and engineers forever developing new things. I could never buy into the idea that we had crossed our last frontier, because I was brought up with people crossing new frontiers.'"

Mr. Shultz laid out some particulars of his own optimism. There is "the ingenuity, the flexibility, the strengths of the national economy." The labor force: "We are so blessed with human talent and resources." And the American people themselves. "They have intelligence, integrity and honor."

We should experience "the current crisis" as "a gigantic wake-up call." We've been living beyond our means, both governmentally and personally. "We have to be willing to face up to our problems. But we have a capacity to roll up our sleeves and get down to work together."

As a household whose income is directly dependent on the automotive industry, the situation has been grim, the nights long and filled with worry. We need hope. We need more people speaking out as George Schultz and we need to recognize that we can indeed do well. That enormous challenges also provide enormous opportunities.

What's wrong with the Q-poll?

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The Arena over at Politico posed this question recently for its Arena participants.

Should the DOJ consider prosecuting Bush administration officials for detainee abuse as the NYT and others have urged?

Scrolling through the responses revealed this one by Maurice (Mickey) Carroll who's the director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

Is it a good idea for a new administration to look for prosecutable crimes by the old administration? Even if their opinion is that there WERE crimes? By and large, the answer is no. Even if the true believers (and the true-believer editorial writers) are pestering the Obama administration to do it. One of the strengths of the American political system is that it's not a blood sport. We disagree without looking to put the other guys in jail. Which is a longish way of saying: There'll be a new slate. Shouldn't we wipe the old slate clean?

There have been times this year when I've wondered at some of the phrasing utilized in the Q-poll surveys and at some of the comments made by Mr. Carroll on the local NPR news outlet. But this comment seals the deal. Mr. Carroll is specifically saying that it is okay for people in government to break the law. That it's okay for those responsible for investigating and prosecuting law-breaking to ignore the activities. That a government administration that has broken the law is above the law.

I cannot imagine a more irresponsible position for Mr. Carroll to take. Why is someone with such a spurious view in charge of a what was a well-regarded university research center? If Quinnipiac University wants its polling research center to maintain its position, it would do well to identify a new leader.

Items of Interest

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~ Via dkos:

Bruce Raynor on the obvious attempt by Republicans to destroy the UAW:

When one compares how the auto industry and the financial sector are being treated by Congress, the double standard is staggering. In the financial sector, employee compensation makes up a huge percentage of costs. According to the New York state comptroller, it accounted for more than 60% of 2007 revenues for the seven largest financial firms in New York.

At Goldman Sachs, for example, employee compensation made up 71% of total operating expenses in 2007. In the auto industry, by contrast, autoworker compensation makes up less than 10% of the cost of manufacturing a car. Hundreds of billions were given to the financial-services industry with barely a question about compensation; the auto bailout, however, was sunk on this issue alone.

~ Here's a step-by-step analysis of September, October and November's economic news and how it combined to bring the country to the edge of another depression. The day-by-day itemization of September events is eye-opening.

~ Many of the left blogosphere went up in flames yesterday when it was announced that Rick Warren would deliver the Invocation at the Inauguration. As Salon points out:

This time, though, the decision to get involved with Saddleback was actually not Obama's. The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, run by the House and Senate, put together the program for the swearing-in ceremony. Congress, not Obama, invited Warren

And there is a second pastor on the schedule whose credentials are impeccable. Phoenix Woman has the details on Joseph Lowery.

Goldman Sachs Pays 1% Tax Rate

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The Morning Reaction post by kula2316 at dkos starts off summarizing all the news about welfare applications skyrocketing around the nation and then moves onto a report of Goldman Sachs' year-end results:

Um... with all the news about welfare applications skyrocketing, more and more Americans needing food stamps or food banks, numerous states slashing their budgets, and our national debt increasing by the second, what is wrong with this picture?

Goldman Sachs Group Inc., which got $10 billion and debt guarantees from the U.S. government in October, expects to pay $14 million in taxes worldwide for 2008 compared with $6 billion in 2007.

The company's effective income tax rate dropped to 1 percent from 34.1 percent, New York-based Goldman Sachs said today in a statement. The firm reported a $2.3 billion profit for the year after paying $10.9 billion in employee compensation and benefits.

$14 million, eh? On profits of $2.3 billion? After receiving assistance from the federal government?

The rate decline looks "a little extreme," said Robert Willens, president and chief executive officer of tax and accounting advisory firm Robert Willens LLC.

"I was definitely taken aback," Willens said. "Clearly they have taken steps to ensure that a lot of their income is earned in lower-tax jurisdictions."

This is insane. The article mentions $14 million in worldwide taxes. I wonder how much of that will actually go to the government that bailed them out?

"This problem is larger than Goldman Sachs," Doggett said. "With the right hand out begging for bailout money, the left is hiding it offshore."


Oh, but I certainly hope all those Goldman Sachs execs enjoy their holiday bonuses, as The Guardian (UK) reports:

A multimillion-pound bonus pot will still be shared by workers at Goldman Sachs, which benefited from a US bank bail-out and yesterday posted its first loss since going public nine years ago.

The payout, worth around £55,000 per employee, was confirmed as the Wall Street bank blamed "extraordinarily difficult operating conditions" for a fourth-quarter loss of $2.12bn (£1.4bn). It still achieved a $2.32bn profit for the full year to November, although this was sharply lower than last year's $11.6bn.

I know there are so many things to be outraged about lately, but this really sets me off. Working and middle class Americans are losing their jobs and relying, in ever increasing numbers, on welfare or food stamps or soup kitchens. Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs takes $10 billion of taxpayer money and pays barely any taxes and then distributes its profits for bonuses. Am I missing something here or is this definitely an outrage?

What she said.

How to spend ANOTHER Trillion...

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Since the economic meltdown in September, I've posted a couple of diaries, with permission, from Prof. Steven Ramirez, professor of law at Loyola University Chicago.  In the first diary, he provided an analysis -- from a law professor's point of view -- of the bailout.   The second diary outlined his further thoughts on the September financial crisis, along with his analysis of why the Paulson Bailout that the Senate passed was wrong.  

In this diary, Prof. Ramirez reviews the current economic climate, based on events since the September meltdown, reviews the lessons learned since then, and provides concrete advice & pragmatic solutions to get us on the road to economic recovery.  

Please take time to read Prof. Ramirez's insightful (and very well sourced!) analysis on the uncertain economic times we're in.

President Elect Obama has announced plans for a massive fiscal stimulus package which he hopes he can sign into law shortly after his inauguration.  Very soon our government will also take up the task of dealing with our failing auto makers and the possible request from the Bush Administration to access the second part of the $700 billion dollar Wall Street bailout bill that squeezed through Congress in October.  This comes shortly on the heels of a recent Bloomberg analysis showing that the US Government (primarily thru the Fed) has already racked up $7.7 trillion in obligations to stem the financial crisis now engulfing the world.  

Economist Brad DeLong argues that "old fashioned Keynesian fiscal stimulus" is the only way now to avoid a depression.  Nobel laureate Joe Stiglitz suggests a stimulus of up to $1 trillion because "a deep and long downturn" looms.  This year's Nobel laureate, Paul Krugman, says "I'm getting scared" because of the grim jobs numbers and the possibility that fiscal stimulus will take too long.  Krugman now sees a "depressed" global economy until at least 2011.  Krugman has posted this grim picture of the job contraction suffered at the hands of the Bush Administration:


McCain adviser, Kenneth Rogoff, sees a "collapse" in consumption that will need to be offset by $1 trillion in economic stimulus, or we could face an economic "disaster."

Thus, this much is clear: we are facing a spiraling economic cataclysm that will require trillions in government expenditures between 2008 and into 2010.  Moreover, it appears darker days are yet to come, as the real estate market gets worse and, according to the IMF, bank losses have yet to peak.

The essential problem is this:


The amount of debt in the US relative to GDP simply exploded under trickledown economics starting in 1980.  As incomes stagnated and jobs contracted (see chart above) for too many the debt burden could no longer be serviced, and a cascade of defaults starting with subprime mortgages has inexorably led to massive deleveraging.  Paul Krugman recognized the dangers of deleveraging late last summer.  Deleveraging means: banks reduce lending and hoard capital; consumers cut consumption in order to enhance savings; firms and individuals sell assets liquidate debts; businesses layoff workers to reduce expenses and reduce debt; and, severe risk aversion to conserve capital.  Deleveraging thereby leads to deflation, which creates a dangerous psychology whereby purchases are deferred in the belief that prices will continue to fall.  "Once started the process is hard to stop."

So now we stand at the brink of the Great Depression II or the Great Deleveraging and our leaders seem clueless about what to do other than stuff billions in the pockets of their pals.  The big bailout was a big bust, with inadequate oversight and no assurance that it would lead to enhanced credit flows.  The primary reason was that it allowed a massive flow of capital into the insatiable insolvency sponges at the center of our economy, whether called Citigroup, AIG or American Express.  These zombie banks who ran off the risky leverage cliff like lemmings will not lend because they know they are insolvent or will be shortly when the next massive waves of losses peak.  It seems at least theoretically likely that bank CEOs like everyone else just want to hang onto their jobs as long as possible, even if that means mass layoffs for the rest of the workforce.  In fact, Wall Street alone is poised to cut $100 billion in wages.

Items of Interest

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~ BarbinMD says all that needs saying about the state of the media this week:

The unifying theme throughout this [Blagojevich] coverage is, when you have a corrupt politician, caught on tape peddling influence and cursing like a sailor, guilt by imaginary association trumps boring issues like the economy and health care any day of the week.

~ Counting absentee votes mistakenly set aside in the Minnesota election has become the big issue. Here's a video that helps clarify what's at stake. [via]

Also, as TPM's Eric Kleefeld notes, the number of wrongly rejected ballots continues to mount:

At least 358 Minnesotans did everything right on their absentee ballots -- they sent them in on time, signed them where they should have and were properly registered -- but their votes were not counted.

Those voters live in just 12 of the state's 87 counties and their ranks will undoubtedly grow. Counties and the state have just begun figuring out how many mistakenly or improperly rejected absentee ballots there are.

The fate of those ballots is hotly contested but unclear.

The state's canvassing board meets on Friday to consider the fate of these and other uncounted votes.

~ Here's an interesting, if unsettling, interview with Michael Ware, CNN's Iraq war correspondent. I wonder if he ever posted the video he talks about anywhere on the net. [via]

John Dean's Letter to President-Elect Obama

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John Dean, Nixon White House and Watergate alumni, offers some advice to President-Elect Obama on how to respond to the Blagojevich scandal.

I am writing with a suggestion that might help to remove you and your new administration from the still metastasizing scandal of Governor Blagojevich trying to sell your senate seat. Needless to say, until the news media is satisfied that you and your new administration have no complicity in this matter, they will continue to focus on it. Because of my own personal experience with Watergate, the mother of modern presidential scandals, not to mention being a student of scandals that followed, I speak as someone who learned the hard way by making mistakes and then watched as others made their own similar and unnecessary blunders. First, a bit of background.

It is trite but true that the best antidote to a growing scandal is transparency, and that making all relevant information, both good and bad, public sooner rather than later is vital, as is releasing more information rather than less, for all these actions help resolve matters more quickly - presuming innocence or, at worst, innocent mistakes. If, however, you or your aides are guilty, up to your ears in dealing with Blagojevich, I still recommend that you ignore the Nixon presidency precedents - for we wrote the book on what not to do. If Blagojevich has poisoned your presidency, you might confer with Vice President Dick Cheney, who has taken "stonewalling" to new heights and shown that cover-ups can actually work if you do not mind having a thirteen percent public approval rating. But this is exactly the type of behavior in Washington that you have promised to change. I submit that the lessons of Watergate remain relevant to this day and apply to the Blagojevich situation, as a few examples might suggest.

Nixon had many opportunities to prevent the disaster that befell his presidency, none more than at the outset of Watergate. If following the arrests of burglars at the Democratic National Committee offices in the Watergate office complex on June 17, 1972 Nixon had issued a memorandum to his White House and reelection campaign staffs demanding that anyone with any direct or indirect knowledge or involvement with the matter immediately submit a full written explanation to him, an explanation which in turn would be released by the press office, or if not willing to do so submit their resignation, there would have been no Watergate cover-up. In fact, if I learned anything from Watergate it was that in the interest of the nation presidents (which would include presidents-elect) must openly and aggressively confront any and all scandals that affect them. [...]

Speaking of high level resignations, another lesson I learned was that when something goes very wrong memories of those touched by it get very bad, and few volunteer anything. For example, before the first White House meeting, forty-eight hours after the Watergate arrests, with the chief of staff Bob Haldeman, the president's top assistant for domestic affairs John Ehrlichman, the former attorney general and campaign manager John Mitchell, attorney general Dick Kliendienst, and yours truly who was White House counsel, I told Haldeman that since I had heard plans to break-in the Watergate offices being discussed in John Mitchell's office and tried - but clearly failed - to turn them off, I was fully prepared to resign. I expected to hear similar disclosures from others at this meeting to assess how to best deal with the problems created by the Watergate arrests, and protect the president.

To the contrary, no one said anything. Haldeman was silent on his telling me to have nothing to do with such operations when I had informed him after hearing them and he never mentioned my offer to resign; Ehrlichman was silent on having approved an earlier break-in at Dan Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office by the people arrested at the Watergate; Mitchell would not admit he had approved the Watergate break-in plans for almost a year; and Kliendienst would not tell anyone what he told me after the meeting - on a pledge of confidentiality - that the man who had bungled it all, Gordon Liddy, had sought him out on a golf course after the arrests of his men at the Watergate and confessed. In short, no one seemed to have the president's interests in mind only their own.

There's more good advice. Since reading his Conservatives without Conscience book, I've had great respect for John Dean. His advice is worthy.

Bill Ayers, Chris Matthews, and American Redemption

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I am one of those who thinks Bill Ayer's 15 minutes was up some time ago and would not have gone out of my way to view his appearance on Hardball with Chris Matthews. But Al Giordano of The Field posted an item about Bill and Chris's conversation that was intriguing enough that I did watch the youtube clip.

What was interesting about the conversation was the connection of their positions as antagonists back in 1971.

In 1971, Bill Ayers was a 27-year-old member of the Weather Underground, a clandestine revolutionary organization mainly of young people opposed to the Vietnam War and the capitalist system. That year, the organization took credit for setting off a bomb in a US Capitol bathroom one night when the building was closed to the public.

In 1971, Chris Matthews was a 26-year-old US Capitol police officer, a member of the group of workers that could have been wounded or killed by the bomb (which upon explosion did damage to property but not people, as was the Weather Underground's goal)...

The conversation was an intelligent, thoughtful discussion - a variety not usually seen on cable news. Al summed it up more eloquently.

Striking about Ayers' appearance on Hardball is his thoughtfulness, the intelligence of his political analysis, and the disarming yet substantive way that he answered some hard questions from Matthews. Both men dressed themselves in glory during that conversation and in doing so created a kind of lighthouse with which the rocky shoals and stormy waters of American political discourse can better be navigated. Both revealed themselves as men of maturity and seriousness that would be worthy and valued collaborators on any political project.

Check it out if you have time.

Items of Interest

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~ Alaskan Shannyn Moore delivers a few zingers in her post, "Sarah Palin: The Gift That Keeps On Taking".

~ Too funny. Someone takes a peek at Rahm Emanuel's inbox.

~ A survey released this week notes that one fifth of the world's reefs have been destroyed. And the future doesn't look good.

~ Interesting difference in perspectives on the auto industry from this father and son, courtesy of BBC video.

"For more than three decades Tom Brewer has worked for General Motors. His son Jake is the Internet Director for the Energy Action Coalition. In this first person account, Jake and Tom share their conflicting views on the auto bail-out. "

Sabotage at Gitmo

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Scott Horton raises the alarm on the last-minute machinations by the current administration and individuals within the Pentagon to present the incoming Obama administration with a fait-accompli. It isn't pretty.

Chicago pols and Illinois politics

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If a comment must be made about the Blagojevich fiasco, one could say that rumors of problems have surrounded him for years and this should not be any great surprise. In fact, it sounds pretty normal for Illinois politics when viewed from the adjacent state of Wisconsin where I lived for many years.

Not familiar with the Chicago machine or Illinois politics? Here's two items that will help you catch up.

Kossak don mikulecky pointed out Harold Meyerson's column on politics in Chicago and the great state of Illinois and made a few comments himself from his 73-year-old vantage point about Chicago politics.

NYT: What autoworkers really make

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The NYT's Economic Scene blog breaks down the $73 an hour number that's tossed around so blithely by the chattering class and finds it skewed, to say the least. And who provided the number? The car companies did as part of a PR strategy used during publicity about labor negotiations.


But it is not comparing apples to oranges to use that figure when comparing the wages of non-Detroit autoworkers with those of the Big 3. This chart lays out the basics but the article is even more enlightening. Go read.

Obama interview with Tribune reporters

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President-Elect Obama sat down with a couple reporters from the Tribune company yesterday and did a fairly extensive interview.

Short version:

No, he never talked to Blagojevich about the Senate seat. Yes, he does intend to follow the tradition of using his full name when being sworn in. Yes, he does plan on giving a speech in an Islamic capital. No, he doesn't know precisely when. Yes, he plans on visiting his house in Chicago regularly. Yes, there's a lot on his plate and they're working on how to best accomplish what they need to achieve.

The long version is better.

CNN: Obama has a 79% job approval rating

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CNN did some polling on Obama and what sort of reception he's getting from the American people. And what a reception it is.

Nearly eight in 10 Americans questioned in a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey out Tuesday morning are giving the president-elect the thumbs up when it comes to his handling of the transition.

Seventy-nine percent approve of Obama's performance so far during transition, with 18 percent disapproving.

The job approval rating is up 4% from last month. And those who think he'll do a poor job as president dropped 3% from last month.

Bill Schneider of CNN put it this way:

"An Obama job approval rating of 79 percent -- that's the sort of rating you see when the public rallies around a leader after a national disaster. To many Americans, the Bush administration was a national disaster."

That's about right Bill. Though I suspect that the disastrous economy and Obama's management of his transition in response to the disaster has something to do with it.

John Brennan, Glenn Greenwald and the State of the Media

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Glenn Greenwald deserves an award for his efforts at keeping the media honest about their reporting on John Brennan and why his name was withdrawn from consideration as director of the CIA. As one of the "liberal bloggers" whose name is maligned in some of the reporting, I greatly appreciate his efforts at setting the record straight. His conversation with Tom Gjelten of NPR over his reporting is the epitome of such efforts. It culminated in this statement by Tom at one point:

Okay. That would be fair. That's how I should have said it. You're absolutely right. I should have said it that way. That's a little bit - and I'm sure you recognize this - I short-handed it and sometimes it's necessary to short-hand things and sometimes when you do that, you over-simplify what is a more complicated issue. I acknowledge that.

Unfortunately, NPR isn't the only media organization that's engaged in this misrepresentation and the conversation between Tom and Glenn begs the question, "Who's manipulating who and for what purpose?" Glenn goes into more detail in this post, "The CIA and its reporter friends: Anatomy of a backlash":

The backlash from the "intelligence community" over John Brennan's withdrawal -- which pro-Brennan sources are now claiming was actually forced on Brennan by the Obama team -- continues to intensify. Just marvel at how coordinated (and patently inaccurate) their messaging is, and -- more significantly -- how easily they can implant their message into establishment media outlets far and wide, which uncritically publish what they're told from their cherished "intelligence sources" and without even the pretense of verifying whether any of it is true and/or hearing any divergent views...

Glenn goes onto to quote example after example of media verbiage which explicitly misrepresents what the liberal bloggers actually wrote. How difficult is it for journalists to actually go out and read the liberal blogs? Had they actually done so rather than taking John Brennan's word for it or that of his supporters, one hopes they would have found it much more difficult to write what they did.

Mr. Greenwald goes onto point out just why this is such a serious affront to good journalism and democracy in 5 well-made points that should trouble any thinking person.

All of this illustrates the unparalleled power which the "intelligence community" exerts over our political debates, how easy it is for them to manipulate intelligence reporters who depend on cooperation with their intelligence sources and who thus identify with them and happily amplify whatever they are fed, and -- most of all -- how profoundly unrealistic is the expectation that, now that Democrats are "in control," they're just going to blithely proceed to impose all sorts of new restrictions on the CIA and the rest of the Surveillance State -- let alone launch probing investigations and impose accountability for past crimes -- without much of a major fight.

Just consider what all of this "reporting" has in common:

(1) All of these reports rely exclusively on pro-Brennan sources, allies and friends of his in the CIA who have fanned out to plant their storyline with their favorite reporters. [...]

In all of these accounts, Brennan's false claims of unfair persecution -- that he was attacked simply because he happened to be at the CIA -- are fully amplified in detail through his CIA allies, most of whom are quoted at length (though typically behind a generous wall of anonymity). But Brennan's critics are almost never quoted or named ... The "reporting" is all from the perspective of Brennan and his CIA supporters. None of these journalists even entertain the idea of disputing or challenging the pro-Brennan version.

(2) None of this reporting even alludes to, let alone conveys, the central arguments against Brennan and the evidence for those arguments.  Unmentioned are his emphatic advocacy for rendition and "enhanced interrogation tactics."  None of the lengthy Brennan quotes defending these programs are acknowledged, despite the fact that not only bloggers, but also the much-cited psychologists' letter, emphasized those defenses (that letter complained that Brennan "supported Tenet's policies, including 'enhanced interrogations' as well as 'renditions' to torturing countries").  The seminal article on these CIA programs by The New Yorker's Jane Mayer -- who interviewed Brennan and identified him as a "supporter" of these programs despite "the moral, ethical, and legal issues" -- does not exist in the journalists' world.  

What instead pervades these stories is the patently deceitful claim typified by Newsweek's Michael Hirsh, who asserted that the case against Brennan was made "with no direct evidence" and then chuckled that this is "common for the blogging world" -- an ironic observations given that Hirsh himself is either completely ignorant of the ample evidence that was offered or is purposely pretending it doesn't exist in order to defend the CIA official Hirsh lauded as "the first-class professional."  That's how the persecution tale against Brennan is built -- by relying on mindless reporters to distort (when they weren't actively suppressing) the evidence against him.

(3) In these accounts, Brennan is described in reverent terms ("first-class professional"; a "natural candidate"; "the guy who's most qualified for the job") while his critics remain unnamed and unseen though dismissed with derogatory, demonizing terms ("some ill-informed bloggers"; "ill-informed but powerful activists"; "a few obscure blogs"; "bloggers" who don't "have that familiarity").

(4) Concerns over torture and rendition -- despite being widespread among countless military officials and intelligence professionals -- are uniformly depicted as nothing more than ideological idiosyncrasies from the dreaded Left ("left-wing hit job on Brennan"; "largely on the left"; "left-leaning bloggers and columnists"; "Obama's liberal base"; Obama's "most ardent supporters on the left"; "liberal critics"; "liberal bloggers"; "confined to liberal blogs"; "the Democratic base").

Thus:  non-ideological, pragmatic, Serious centrists (which, as everyone knows, is what we need now) are free of this nattering fixation on all this "torture" talk.  Serious adults know that it's time to move on and not hold grudges.  It's only the shrill ideologues on the Left who care about such things and want to hold it against those who defended these programs.  Depicting one's critics as confined to "the Left" is a time-honored Beltway method for rendering the criticisms unserious, and it's in full force here (and, as Digby ironically notes, it is the Right, far more than the Left, that has waged war against the CIA in recent years; the Left has largely defended the CIA against manipulation and abuse by the Bush White House). 

(5) What all of this is -- more than anything else -- is a clear warning to Obama from the CIA about the dangers of paying heed to anti-torture and pro-civil-liberties factions, and they're not really even hiding that.  They're explicitly expressing the message as a warning:  "the President-elect risks sending a troubling signal to the intelligence community."  As Mazzetti and Shane put it after speaking with their favorite sources:    Obama risks "alienating an agency with a central role in the campaign against Al Qaeda."

Those warnings are issued with an eye towards the events they know full well are imminent:  debates over how legally restrained the CIA should be in its interrogation and detention powers; demands that light be shined on what the CIA spent the last eight years doing at the behest of Dick Cheney and with the legal imprimatur of David Addington's cabal; and, most of all, efforts to hold those who committed war crimes accountable (efforts which would and should be directed at high-level Bush policy makers and legal advisers who enabled those crimes, not lower-level intelligence agents, but which the CIA nonetheless fears).

His conclusion should wake more than a few of us up.

What happened with John Brennan is very straightforward and ought not be particularly controversial. This is someone who explicitly defended some of the most controversial Bush interrogation and detention policies. Everything that Obama said about such policies, and everything his supporters believe about them, should, for that reason alone, preclude Brennan from being named to any top intelligence post, let alone CIA Director. It's just as simple as that.

But, as has been historically true, many in "the intelligence community" are outraged by what they perceive as outside "interference" -- as though the CIA shouldn't be subjected to the same set of oversight, limitations, and democratic accountability, debate and restrictions as every other part of government. That something as straightforward as the John Brennan controversy can produce this level of backlash from the intelligence community is a very potent sign of the formidible barriers to real reform of our interrogation and detention framework and, especially, to the prospects for meaningful disclosure of, and accountability for, past crimes.

It appears as if some of the Cheney-Bush attitude about accountability has infected government agencies and the management of our national security. We need some one at the CIA who is willing to put it back on the right track; not use his "influence" to push access journalists into PR journalism on his behalf, which in the end, only demonstrates just how unqualified John Brennan is for the position based on ethical grounds.

Items of Interest

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~ Here's a dkos rescued diary that someone spent a great deal of time researching:
Speechifying: Analyzing Obama's Oratory. And for those who are interested in oratory and analysis of Obama's prowess and skill, Dragon5616 listed all of his sources at the end of the post. It's very interesting to see what the experts say.

~ From Jonathan Stein at Mother Jones:

The Department of Homeland Security and Department of Agriculture have no plan to work together in the event of a food-borne disease outbreak or terrorist attack. The Department of Defense's security clearance process takes so long it jeopardizes classified information. The EPA's chemical risk assessment program is improperly influenced by private industry.

When Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) requested a report (pdf) from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) listing questions his fellow senators might ask President-elect Barack Obama's political nominees at their upcoming confirmation hearings, he probably didn't expect a 150-page list of Bush administration screwups. But that's what he got.

Per Kula, featured in today's C&J, who highlighted Stein's article in her morning roundup:

"The report is limited to management issues, so don't think this is an exhaustive list of Bush administration screwups. That report would be much, much longer. [...] I skimmed through it for a little bit, but then I went cross-eyed and got a headache. While the majority of the report consists of questions Congress could pose to potential nominees, it reads like "a catalogue of hundreds of unresolved issues that the Bush administration is leaving behind for Obama," as Stein puts it."

~ Need some new euphemisms for swear words that are just not acceptable in polite company? Language expert Steven Pinker lists a more than a few in a response to a query about the Supreme court hearing of the case, FCC v. Fox Television Stations. Horsefeathers indeed.

~ Interesting background note on the new NSA advisor from The Daily Dish

David Sands profiles the next NSA:

Tall, square-shouldered and square-jawed, James L. Jones looks like central casting's version of exactly what he is: a straight-talking, straight-shooting Marine. But the retired four-star general ... has a few lines on his resume not normally associated with former Marine Corps commandants or former NATO supreme allied commanders.

For one thing, the 65-year-old Kansas City, Mo. native speaks fluent French, thanks to a childhood spent mainly in Paris where his father worked for International Harvester. For another, he's one of the few Marines who holds a degree from Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service.

I'll bet he and Sen. Kerry, another renowned speaker of French, would have some interesting conversations.

~ Tim F. of Balloon Juice discusses Hilzoy's disclaimer on an post that she wrote about the Israeli settler violence. I think they both got it right.

~ John Cole boils it down so clearly:

Basically, it boils down to this- if I wanted to live in accordance to rules as set by your faith, I would join your church. Until then, until you see me sitting two pews over on Sunday morning, just assume that I really don't care what your God thinks. I don't want the rules of your faith imposed upon me by the government, just as I do not desire the government telling me to live under the rules of Cardinal Ratzinger, the Church of Latter Day Saints, Sharia law, Wiccan rules, Buddhist tenets, and on and on and on. Nor do I think you should have to lives under laws that force you to adhere to the religious principles of someone else.

Until social conservatives can understand that that is why Kathleen Parker says they should use logic and reason, and that the best way all of us can get together is if our public policy is not dictated by one religious sect ramming their God down our collective throats, they are just going to be stuck on oogedy-boogedy. "Because it is a sin" ain't cutting it.

~ You can watch Paul Krugman's lecture in Sweden ... the one related to that Nobel award he's getting.

~ In the odds'n'ends category, this one could be truly awkward, if not tragic.

Karmic justice: Gen. Eric Shinseki

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News arrived over the weekend that President-Elect Obama had selected Gen. Shinseki as the next Secretary of Veterans Affairs. The official announcement is to be made on Monday, December 7th, the 63rd anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Obama referenced it in his talk with Tom Brokaw on Meet The Press Sunday.

"He was right."

That was his clipped response to Brokaw's query on Shinseki and his dismissal by Rumsfeld. It was brief and powerful. James Fallows has a piece on the karmic justice of it all and a follow-up commenting on the elegance of the timing.

Fallows' recitation of Shinseki's history and approach to his position and responsibilities is corroborated by this first person narrative from kossak Homer J which offers another angle from which to see how Gen. Shinseki respected and cared for the veterans and soldiers under his command.


Spencer Ackerman and Hilzoy have posted about Obama's selection of Shinseki. Spencer unequivocally approves. Hilzoy looks thoughtfully at some of the implications and possible outcomes of his appointment.

Tales of a Family Doctor

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A family doctor sat down at his computer and wrote about what he does when he goes to his clinic. The end result is an extraordinary look inside a clinic focused on family practice and the stresses that the current health insurance system places on the people in such an establishment.

I arrived this morning in the office at 8:50 a.m. to find Glenda, my office manager, buried in charts. She had been there since 6:30, simultaneously arranging referrals that had been requested the day before, making sure that we had properly completed the detailed forms required by the Child Health and Disability Prevention Program that helps pay for the preventive care provided to some of our poorer patients, and listening to the voice mail from pharmacies to get the medication refill requests in order for me before the day begins in earnest.

Glenda is a great asset to the practice. An extraordinarily hardworking mother of two, four days a week she commutes with her husband from an outlying suburb to the office, arriving early to avoid the rush hour gridlock and get some of her work done before the phones start ringing. Having been with me for about ten years, she knows the ins and outs of dealing with all the health plans-- which ones require paper referrals, which use the Internet, which force her to hang on the phone waiting for an okay. Only Medicare is easy; all we have to do is provide a patient with the name and phone number of the consultant. MediCal, the California Medicaid program for certain categories of poor people, works the same way in our county but it is a bit more complicated. Not all the consultants we regularly use accept MediCal referrals so the list of available consultants is limited. Glenda is playing what I think of as a game of "keep away" we play in our office. The providers, knowing medicine but not the details of each health plan, send administrative work to the staff; Glenda and the rest put their stamp on the process and return the charts back to the doctors. Eventually the game pauses, but right now Glenda is "losing" with over fifty charts on her desk.

My office, a small practice which I own and staff, has grown over the nearly 20 years I've been practicing family medicine in the San Francisco suburb of Burlingame. At first I worked alone, delivering babies, assisting at surgery, rounding on my hospitalized patients, but always spending most of my time seeing patients in my office across the street from the hospitalOver time, in order to make sure that I could take vacation and to spread the overhead, the practice has grown and now we are a group of five part time physicians and two nurse practitioners supported by seven full and part time staff. [...]

Shortly after I arrive and begin to call back patients who've left messages overnight Glenda comes by with a small stack of charts that have been giving her trouble. A couple require a short letter from me changing the "diagnosis code" I used when completing a lab order form. Some insurance companies, it turns out, do not pay for preventive screening tests, so when I ordered a cholesterol or a prostate cancer screening test at the time of a physical, the test would not be covered under a patient's insurance policy. Fortunately, the lab often catches these slips and notifies us so I can correct the "error". For better or worse, the two patients' whose charts she brings today have elevated cholesterol levels, so I feel honest indicating that fact in the letter, knowing that the insurance company will not balk at payment. [...]

The private health care insurance system which we deal with every day is an insidious bureaucratic monster. The morass of more than 1300 insurance carriers in this country introduces an administrative mess beyond belief. In our small office of essentially two full time equivalent providers, seven full time support staff are needed to cope with the complexities introduced by this system. I am quite certain that the wasted effort this system creates is so great that if we had a unified system of health care I could see 10-20% more patients - with two fewer staff. Looked at from another direction, at least 10-20% of my current income is wasted on insurance bureaucracy which benefits no one. [...]

Three medical assistants spend hours daily communicating with patients about medication refills and calling or faxing pharmacies. Most insurance companies allow patients to collect only a one month supply of medication at their local pharmacies (three months if patients can figure out how to manage a mail order program). The rule makes financial sense for insurance companies. Why should one company pay for a year's supply of medication if a patient may well switch insurance companies or lose their coverage after one month? Unfortunately, the rule doesn't make sense for patients. Studies show that compliance with chronic medications is abysmally low, in part because of rules like this.

The churn in insurance coverage as people move, change jobs, or suffer economic hardships which lead them to cut back on expenses introduces a huge set of problems for our little office, and wasteful costs for the medical system. Easily half of the new patients we see explain their search for a new doctor (no small task in a community where primary care providers are retiring in far greater numbers than they are starting out) as the result of an insurance change. So we often "reinvent the wheel", setting up a new chart, getting to know a patient, revising medications, reviewing old medical records, helping those with complex medical issues reestablish with new consultants. The economic implications for the system are obvious.

There's so much more in his post that I encourage you to go read the original. He concludes with some thoughts about the future of health care in America and he makes a lot of sense. Let's hope people who need to hear his input are listening.

The doctor's name is Aaron Roland and his bio notes that he "is a family physician who years ago left Yale Law School and a career in politics for the front lines of primary care. He now returns to fight for national health insurance for all." His opening comment mentions the organization, "Physicians for a National Health Plan" or PNHP, specifically pointing out a blog at the PNHP website which may be of interest.

Weekly Address from the President-Elect

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President-Elect Obama announces the biggest investment in our country's national infrastructure since the federal highway system was built.

SusanG at dkos pointed out one oratorical detail that's a small but powerful one.

Aside from the commitment to what sounds like a great progressive stimulus plan, one sentence struck me: Will your job or your husband's job or your daughter's job be the next one cut?. Read that closely. In a speech about universal fears and hardship, he is addressing his primary listeners as women. Never have I heard sentence construction like that from a president -- women addressed directly in a non-"women's issues" setting as legitimate, fully fledged and very concerned and invested breadwinners. The effect is stunning.

I haven't heard it either, Susan. Add it to another one of Obama's many strong points as an orator.

The complete transcript of the address is on the flip side.

CO2, Climate Change and the value of Daily Kos

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One of the things I value about dkos aka Daily Kos, is being part of a community that is home to people whose understanding of the internals of climate change and the changes in human behavior and technology which need to occur in order to save this planet that we all live on. One of those people is a diarist named greenmama whose post about CO2 and its impact on our planet and what we need to do to address it, was another learning experience for me.

The discussion in the comments on the diary provides so much more food for thought and links to other reading material and learning opportunities that I suspect a thorough search and read session could take the better part of 4-5 hours, especially if one followed the links that were found in the secondary and tertiary sources. Seriously, if you're interested in catching up on the current discussion and science and practical "do at home and work now" tips, this isn't a bad place to start. Just follow all the embedded links in the diary and in the comments.

But that's not even the most interesting aspect of this particular post. I found this post because greenmama commented on another diary by a brand-new kossack (interesting all on its own for a different reason) and described her dkos experience.

I'm very new to dKos. I'll start with the negative - it's addicting. I've been meaning to clean out the home office all week, but in my spare time I end up here instead. Tomorrow we have 50 people coming over for a party. I'm supposed to be cooking and cleaning, but stopped at my computer for a look, and here I am, sucked in again. Dishes stacked in the sink, bills and magazines piling up in the office - it's a little bit of a problem.

The positive and how it's helped me - it's an amazing, vibrant community. I love the diversity of informed dialogue, debate and commentary. I feel like I get my news a little early and am extra informed. I always learn something new when I come here and always find that I'm questioning my own beliefs - some become stronger, some I have to rethink. I like that.

Then, I wrote a diary the other day about an article from my absolute hero, Bill McKibben. Well, he actually visited the diary and wrote a very nice comment. I wrote back, he replied, etc. I had a mini conversation with this person whose every book I've read and who has had a profound impact on my life. That's amazingly cool and never would have happened without this site.

I know what she means about addiction. Her description of her office sounds eerily familiar. But the real point is her encounter with an author that she's been familiar with for a long time. Here's his comment and her response in the CO2 diary:

Bill McKibben: Many thanks for this diary

And for sending people to

We've had great successes in Poznan, Poland at the climate meetings the last two days. Both the Least Developed Countries, and the Intl Youth Climate Network, have endorsed 350 as a target in the last 48 hours. This will help sharpen the debate in the year ahead as we head to Copenhagen.

And though we won't officially announce it till next week, Kossacks deserve an early heads-up: circle Oct. 24 on your calendars for next fall. It's going to be a huge global day of action, designed to make the number 350 absolutely ubiquitous in people's minds. We'll have climbers on high mountains, divers on the Great Barrier Reef, and a thousand other things--if you guys put your minds to it. If you sign up now at we'll get you details as they develop.

As to the argument that it's too late--maybe. Though Hansen makes clear that if we get to work now we can actually make the target, though only by the incredibly difficult job of kicking coal globally in short order. Humans have undertaken no bigger task--but then, they've faced no greater challenge.

Thanks again to all at dkos for the informed debate on this question over the years. Time for action!

greenmama: wow - thank you

you are truly my hero - and I don't throw that term around lightly. I read The End of Nature years ago and it became a personal bible for me - it really got me started on my own sustainability journey. The Deep Economy, Maybe One (we have just one child too and you really helped make me feel at peace with that), all your articles, etc. - if you write it, I read it and try to live it.

What I love most about your work is that you take the incredibly complex and break it into readable, digestible and understandable words. Thank you for all you do.

So you've work ahead of you. There's greenmama's diary to digest, Bill McKibben's original article on CO2, "The Most Important Number on Earth", and his website Plus you've now received advance notice of something that will be happening world-wide next year. Plenty of time to think about how you're going to participate and contribute.

Oh, and one more bit of trivia about the interesting people you'll meet at Daily Kos. You know the economist who was just named to Vice President-Elect Biden's staff, Jared Bernstein? Yep, he's a kossak.

Items of Interest

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~ Ezra Klein has an excellent post up on the American health system vs. the British health system. One small nugget from the post:

People often compare American health care to Canadian health care. It's the wrong comparison. The inverse of the American health care system is the British health care system. Where we are the priciest, they are the cheapest. ... In 2006, adjusted for purchasing power, the United Kingdom spent $2,760 per person on health care. America spent $6,714. It's a difference of almost $4,000 per person, spread across the population. That's $4,000 that can go into wages, or schools, or defense, or luxury, or mortgage-backed securities. And there's no evidence that Britain's aggregate outcomes are noticeable worse.

He goes onto discuss today's NY Times article on the subject which goes into the topic in depth and is well worth the time to read it, as is Ezra, of course. Just FYI, the NYT article is part of a NYT series called The Evidence Gap which "explores medical treatments used despite scant proof they work and considers steps toward medicine based on evidence."

~ Scott Horton holds the NY Times accountable on its coverage of torture in this post at Harpers. [via]

As I discovered in studying the paper's reporting over a period of year, when a neighbor plays his stereo too loudly in the apartment next door, that is "torture." But when a man is stripped of his clothing, chained to the floor in a short-shackle position, subjected to sleep deprivation and alternating cold and heat, and left to writhe in his own feces and urine--that, in the world of the Times, is just an "enhanced interrogation technique." Shane and Mazzetti do us one better in this piece. Figures who criticize torture and Brennan's fitness to be DCI are, we learn, the "left wing of the Democratic Party." That's a remarkable characterization for a group that is led by retired generals and admirals, as well as many of the nation's most prominent religious leaders.

More from Mr. Horton on that group of generals and admirals and other media reports on the Bush administration and its condoning of torture.

And then there's Andrew Sullivan's piece on the NYT's lack of clarity in reporting on torture which Scott Horton referenced. And as usual on this topic, he's got it right.

~ Given that Joan Vennochi is usually venting her spleen on John Kerry, it's mildly surprising to see her defending him in today's column. But then again, he may simply be a convenient tool for her to use in taking aim at President-Elect Obama. Another rightwing pundit blathers on.

~ I've always wondered when and how Bombay turned into Mumbai but not enough to remember to look it up when I had time. This reader explains it in the process of giving Sully a rap across the knuckles for accepting without verifying Hitchen's explanation of the origin.

~ Eric Boehlert of Media Matters asks: Did Politico just refer to the Obama adminstration as a "pile of manure"? Here's what happened:

Here's the lead from John Harris and Glenn Thrush:

Hillary Rodham Clinton has a favorite expression for turning setback into opportunity: "Bloom where you're planted."

Her three-decade career on the public stage has produced countless examples of Clinton sprouting a flower in a pile of manure. Few of them are more vivid than this week's official announcement that she is the nominee to serve as secretary of state to Barack Obama.

How else would you read that?

You know, Eric, I think they did. So what does that tell us about the management of Politico? Right.

~ Queen Noor of Jordan likes Obama's choice of Hillary Clinton as SoS.

Bush Admin Incompetence Strikes Again

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The GAO report (pdf) on management of the bailout released on Tuesday follows an oh-so-familiar pattern evident in the litany of failures of the Bush administration that begins with Katrina, the management of the Iraqi occupation, the DOJ politicization, and goes on and on.

TPMMuckraker, specifically Zachary Roth, has been doing an excellent job of tracking through the report and reaction to its contents. Zach made three posts in a row whose content is guaranteed to make any US taxpayer nervous if not outright sick and angry.

His first was from "page 15 of the GAO report on how Treasury is spending the bailout money":

[Treasury's Office of Financial Stability] has not yet determined if it will impose reporting requirements on the participating financial institutions that could enable OFS to monitor, to some extent, how the financial institutions are using capital infusions.
In other words, Treasury may not force banks even to tell the department how the banks using the billions of dollars they're getting. It's a no-strings-attached deal, it would seem.

Next, he notes the report's comment on oversight:

The GAO report makes clear that the urgency of the crisis has meant that oversight procedures have taken a backseat. It concludes in part:

Treasury has not yet set up policies and procedures to help ensure that [Capital Purchase Program] funds are being used as intended.

And then, this one which makes one want to weep with frustration:

Here's a bit more detail, from page 25 of the GAO report, on what seems like the Treasury's utter aversion to requiring banks to offer any information whatsoever on what they're doing with the billions of dollars of taxpayer money they're getting.

[I]t is unclear how OFS and the banking regulators will monitor how participating institutions are using the capital investments and whether these goals are being met. The standard agreement between Treasury and the participating institutions does not require that these institutions track or report how they plan to use, or do use, their capital investments.

With the exception of two institutions, institution officials noted that money is fungible and that they did not intend to track or report CPP capital separately.


The banking regulators indicated that they had not yet developed any additional supervisory steps, such as requiring more frequent provision of certain call report data for participating institutions, to monitor participating institutions' activities.

So it seems to come down to this: the banks won't say what they're doing with the money, and Treasury is too polite to ask.

Too polite? There are other words for this breach of the public trust by the Treasury Department officials. Incompetent seems mildest of them.

There's more in the report. On limiting outrageous executive compensation, Zach noted that "Treasury officials aren't even on the same page with each other about how to enforce the limits -- and some think it can be left to the banks, fox-henhouse concerns be damned."

Conflict of interest issues have surfaced as well:

The GAO report sheds light on another interesting angle to the conflict of interest problem with Treasury's administering of the bailout.

The department has hired outside private contractors to administer parts of the bailout program, notes GAO. Given the reports we've seen about Treasury lacking staff -- and lacking the right staff -- to implement the program, that may be a good move.

But as the report explains, outside contractors aren't subject to the conflict of interest rules that govern Treasury staff. As a result, Treasury asked the contractors to identify potential conflicts. There were many.

Zach goes on to quote a few of the relevant issues and conflicts and it's bad. It essentially says that the contractors hired have said there are conflicts, that some of their clients are entities that will be receiving TARP money, and yet the Treasury people have essentially said 'we trust you'll do the right thing'.

Finally TPMMuckraker reports that Pelosi and Frank had similar negative reactions to the report.

In a statement, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said:

The GAO's discouraging report makes clear that the Treasury Department's implementation of the (rescue plan) is insufficiently transparent and is not accountable to American taxpayers."

And Rep. Barney Frank, who chairs the House Financial Services Committee, agreed, saying in his own statement:

The American people received two kinds of news about the TARP program - bad and worse news.

The bad news was confirmation by the GAO in its first report about the program that Treasury has no way to measure whether taxpayer funds invested in banks are being used in accordance with the purpose of the law - to increase lending. The much worse news is Treasury's response that it does not even have the intention of doing so.

Frank added: "A public hearing on the issues raised by the GAO report is now essential."

Combine that with the willful obstruction of bailout oversight by a Republican senator, likely Jim Bunning of Kentucky, and one must conclude that Republicans want to destroy the US economy and its citizens.

The old truth "By their fruit, ye shall know them" is most germane. Based on their actions, Republicans sure as hell aren't interested in any form of responsible government and no amount of words can conceal that fact.

Why is Sen. Jim Bunning blocking bailout oversight nomination?

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A block by an anonymous senator has been placed on the nomination of Barofsky to the position that would manage oversight of the bailout. After much investigative work by bloggers and journalists, it appears that the likely senate blocker is Republican senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky.

Why? Who twisted his arm to get him to do this?

Why would ANY Republican who's really concerned about the future of our country think it a good idea to block oversight of hundreds of billions of taxpayer money?

He should be made the poster boy for flagrant Republican contempt for well-managed government.

And the next time ANY Republican tells you that they're in favor of good government, laugh in their face and let them know you won't being buying that bridge to nowhere.

Items of Interest

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~ Jane Hamsher of FireDogLake has an excellent post up about the power of the blogs versus the power of traditional media in light of all the recent budget cutting at newspapers and other media organizations.

~ DNI director Mike McConnell implies that Lashkar-e-Taiba is responsible for the attack in Mumbai late Tuesday. He didn't directly name the group but "speaking at Harvard University, the top US intelligence official left little doubt that he believed the group was responsible for the bloody attacks."

"The same group that we believe is responsible for Mumbai had a similar attack in 2006 on a train and killed a similar number of people," said McConnell. "Go back to 2001 and it was an attack on the parliament," he added.

~ Keeping track of all the different ways to connect with a person on the internet or via the phone, etc. has just gotten a new technology twist. It's called .TEL.

~ College tuition soon to be out of reach for most students.

The rising cost of college -- even before the recession -- threatens to put higher education out of reach for most Americans, according to the biennial report from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. Over all, the report found, published college tuition and fees increased 439 percent from 1982 to 2007, adjusted for inflation, while median family income rose 147 percent.

No big surprise there for our household with two 2008 graduates. The price is appalling and I don't think that the professors and the administrators realize just how good they have it.

~ NYT's dot earth blog has a good post on "CO2's Long Goodbye".

What's happening to CT's Obama network

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NPR's All Things Considered had an interesting piece yesterday afternoon about what happens with Obama's network now that the election is over. One of the people interviewed was Micah Sifry who talked about people in Connecticut who've moved their group onto a platform that will remain active regardless of what happens to and allow them to continue organizing. So knowing that Micah had undoubtedly had more to say about it at, I went searching and found this post: What Happens to the Obama Network After the Election?

Take this email exchange that I have had in the last 24 hours with some of the core activists in Connecticut for Obama. Monday, Stephen Wilmarth, the site owner of a Ning social network group called wrote techPresident the following note:

Thought you'd want to keep your eye on this....

As we approach election day, our Connecticut for Obama (Ning) grassroots organizing network Web site will undergo a profound change. Unlike traditional campaign Web sites that will shut down as the activities associated with the election process draw to a close, our netroots organizers will convene and discuss how we turn our registered network users from the task of electing Barack Obama to the office of President, to a network of organizers who can participate in the governing process. Having found our voice, we intend to keep it alive and flourishing and growing long after the campaign has ended, and turn our energies toward the challenges of governing. Our mission is to continue in our role as a group motivated community organizers, to advocate for the issues that brought us into the process in the beginning. We will continue to make use of the rich social media tools and online resources to keep our group of over 1,000 grassroots organizers and campaign workers, many of us new to the political process, highly engaged. So, watch this space! [...]

Do other people share Wilmarth's vision? We're going to find out just how many pretty soon. Jennifer Just, the Obama for America Connecticut field organizer, wrote a quick note affirming Wilmarth's messages to me, saying, "[Obama] wouldn't be here, nor would we, w/out new media...I especially love the book 'here comes everybody' & am v. excited about the future of grassroots organizing after this." I asked her if she thought many of the volunteers working on the campaign now were in it for the longer haul. She wrote back, taking a break from entering data, "MORE than up for it...we can't stand the idea of not working together so we've already talked about ways of working together...likely that we won't all stay together but at least use these tools etc. to move forward on those things that compel each of us."

Micah links to a dkos post that Al Giordano wrote about a panel that he did in Madison on the topic. The diary includes a cautionary tale from the 2004 Kerry-Edwards blog experience:

On Election Night in 2004, the official Kerry-Edwards blog - which had hundreds of fresh comments and news rolling in about problems with the right to vote all day long - was suddenly taken offline at 2 a.m.

One source that was there, staffing the blog, provides this account:

" 2 am, without any indication at all, the blog disappeared. No one answered phone calls. It was clear they had all turned out the lights and left. I went into the MT program and saw that Ari had shut it down. I could have turned it back on, but by then I was so pissed--truly, a sense that they never got it, never saw the people who worked so hard on it as the incredibly smart informed and hardworking folks they were, never really understood the relationship between changing hearts and minds through dialogue to the ATM that was feeding them. I left it down.

"People were massively hurt. There was a forum that was on a separate server which was run entirely by volunteers and the campaign did not turn that off; they had forgotten it was there. There was an IRC chat room and most of the bloggers went there; the chat room was run by another volunteer and existed on a server in Kansas, I think. I spent almost 48 hours without sleep in the IRC, helping people cope with their sense of outrage and disappointment, most of which became directed at John Kerry himself, despite my constant efforts to help people separate the issues out."

As one of the people who managed the IRC channel and helped out on the K-E blog, I can attest to that experience. The anger and rage at being shut down so abruptly and relationships severed, coming on top of the shock of Kerry's loss, was phenomenal.

Some of the moderators from the Kerry-Edwards blog and the IRC channel went on to form the Democracy Cell Project. Our logo was "Educate Activate Empower". Unfortunately technology tools such as Ning weren't around yet and we didn't have the funding to create a platform that would work nationally.

That was then. This is now.

And now we do have tools that allow us to expand on the network built by Obama for America. It's exciting to see that Connecticut is leading in this ongoing experiment with their site, newly renamed GroundUp. Interestingly the logo is surprisingly (or not so surprisingly if you think about it) similar to the DCP's. It's "Recruit Empower Multiply".

Speaking of multiplying, there's a number of house-parties and get-togethers scheduled for Dec. 11-14 across the state at which people will be gathering to talk about what they'd like to tackle next. Locations include Stamford, Mystic, New Haven, Windsor, Bloomfield, Middletown, Branford, Glastonbury, Meriden, and East Haddam as of today.

To check further details, use both the GroundUp event list and the mybo search to locate the events.

I'd propose that part of what's next is to see how we connect with activities and groups already organizing and build a highly effective grassroots-netroots organization.

Mumbai is India's 11-M, not India's 9/11

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Amitav Ghosh has an op-ed in the NY Times that underscores something that I was thinking about the other day. He notes that violence and attacks such as that carried out in Mumbai have been in occurring with regularity in India for decades though western media watchers may not have been as aware of them as they might be. He goes onto argue that the 9/11 comparison is inaccurate because there was no history of attacks in the United States prior to 9/11 as there was in India. Then he makes the following point:

When commentators repeat the metaphor of 9/11 they are in effect pushing the Indian government to mount a comparable response. If India takes a hard line modeled on the actions of the Bush administration, the consequences are sure to be equally disastrous. The very power of the 9/11 metaphor blinds us to the possibility that there might be other, more productive analogies for the invasion of Mumbai: one is the Madrid train bombings of March 11, 2004, which led to a comparable number of casualties and created a similar sense of shock and grief.

If 9/11 is a metaphor for one kind of reaction to terrorism, then 11-M (as it is known in Spanish) should serve as shorthand for a different kind of response: one that emphasizes vigilance, patience and careful police work in coordination with neighboring countries. This is exactly the kind of response India needs now, and fortunately this seems to be the course that the government, led by the Congress Party, has decided to follow.

This is exactly the kind of response the US needed to 9/11 and failed to take. Let's hope that the Indian government will avoid making the mistakes of the Bush administration.

Climate is 'Not the Story of Our Time'

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Andrew C. Revkin of the NY Times dotearth blog recently received the 2008 John Chancellor Award for sustained achievement in journalism and spoke at a gathering of "graduate students in journalism at Columbia University". He blogged about it on dot earth and highlighted this Q&A out of the video clip that he posted.

Q. Obviously climate change is the biggest story on your plate right now, but looking ahead what do you see?

A. My coverage has evolved. Climate change is not the story of our time. Climate change is a subset of the story of our time, which is that we are coming of age on a finite planet and only just now recognizing that it is finite. So how we mesh infinite aspirations of a species that's been on this explosive trajectory -- not just of population growth but of consumptive appetite -- how can we make a transition to a sort of stabilized and still prosperous relationship with the Earth and each other is the story of our time.

And it's a story about conflict. It's a story about the fact that there are a billion teenagers on planet earth right now. A hundred thirty years ago there were only a billion people altogether -- grandparents, kids. Now there are a billion teenagers and they could just as easily become child soldiers and drug dealers as innovators and the owners of small companies in favelas in Brazil. And little tweaks in their prospects, a little bit of education, a little bit of opportunity, a micro loan or something, something that gets girls into schools, those things -- that's the story of our time. And climate change is like a symptom of the story of our time, meaning our energy choices right now come with a lot of emissions of greenhouse gases and if we don't have a lot of new [choices] we're going to have a lot of warming.

This pulls together many of the elements that Obama talked about in his campaign - that green technology and working with our finite and infinite resources is critical to our future in economic terms, in national security terms, in environmental and quality of life terms. Obviously Mr. Revkin has spent more than a little time thinking about this.

Items of Interest

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~ Dkos frontpager Plutonium Page put together an excellent post on Obama's and Hillary's foreign policy stances and highlights how much they are in sync, contrary to the impressions you may have received from recent media reporting. She does an excellent job of documenting with lots of embedded links.

~ Jed L does a little digging on Mark Halperin's sources. Sheesh. No wonder his columns for Time are so slanted. His primary sources are some of the most bigoted, racist, rightwingnut sources one can find.

~ 60 Minutes had a segment on one young woman who excelled under fire in Afghanistan, "How Pvt. Monica Brown Won A Silver Star".

I'm so proud of her. I know that she doesn't want to be singled out at this point but she's the epitome of proof of women's equality, of all the things that women fought for throughout the 20th century and still continue to fight for today. Well done, Monica, and thank you for your service.

Items of Interest

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~ Jeffrey Rosen has an interesting look into the breadth of Google's control of what is viewed on the internet worldwide and how questions of free-speech versus illegal speech in one country but not others are managed. The NY Times Magazine article is educational, lengthy and thought-provoking.

~ From Barry Ritholz:

A brutally damning article about the warnings the Bush administration received and ignored was published this morning by AP. The AP summed up the philosophy of the Bush White House, writing: "The administration's blind eye to the impending crisis is emblematic of its governing philosophy, which trusted market forces and discounted the value of government intervention in the economy. Its belief ironically has ushered in the most massive government intervention since the 1930s."

Is anyone surprised that the Bush administration is this incompetent? Really. There's been plenty of warnings ... Katrina comes to mind.

~ It wouldn't have been a surprise to Tanta, blogger extraordinaire at Calculated Risk, memorialized in this NY Times obit in a manner few bloggers have been. The WSJ marked her passing too.

~ This isn't interesting, just disgusting, very, very disgusting and completely illustrative of the right-wing hate radio - blogosphere level of discourse.

~ The Times Online UK has a fascinating slideshow of the recent coronation of the Bhutan king. The captions with the photos are an interesting quick history lesson on this medieval kingdom.

~ Greg Mitchell fact-checks a supposed fact-checker whose misrepresentations have received wide media coverage. I must admit being surprised when I encountered the original article but I didn't look into it as Greg did. I'm glad that he took the time to set the record straight. I wonder how many of the media venues that covered the original will acknowledge the errors in it.

~ You might think that slavery is a thing of the past but it's not. Kathryn Hawkins of writes of "Five Former Slaves Who Are Changing the World". Life-changing people who deserve recognition and support.

Obama's National Security Team

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President-Elect Barack Obama introduced his National Security Team this morning; a team which includes Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense, Eric Holder as Attorney General, Janet Napolitano as Secretary of Homeland Security, Susan Rice as UN Ambassador and James Jones as National Security Adviser.

If you're curious, as most Americans are, about Barack Obama and his approach to governing and to our national security and leadership, then the following video clips will be useful in satisfying your curiosity.

What is unfortunate is that most Americans will not watch these clips. Even reading the transcript will not replace hearing and seeing the emphasis that he placed on certain phrases. Watching Obama and his team is a reassuring experience. We've chosen someone with a serious approach to American security and leadership in the world and he's put together a team that has a clear understanding of the complexities involved in achieving that vision. Those who don't have time to watch this will miss out the depth of conviction with which the Obama team is approaching their mission.

Transcript of prepared remarks below the fold.

After Obama spoke, members of his National Security team each spoke briefly starting with Hillary Clinton.

The press Q&A section of today's press conference introducing Obama's nation security team runs about 16 min. in this clip and is followed by roughly 14 min. of commentary by various MSNBC people.

I thought this exchange was particularly significant. It occurs from 2:16 to 5:42 in the Q&A clip above.

Question: You've selected a number of high-profile people for your National Security team. How can you ensure that the staff that you are assembling is going to be a smoothly functioning team of rivals and not a clash of rivals?

Answer: I think you hear Joe mention the fact that many of the people standing here beside me are people who have worked together before, who have the utmost respect for each other. These are outstanding public servants and outstanding in their various fields of endeavor. They would not have agreed to join my administration and I would not have asked them to be part of this administration unless we shared a core vision of what's needed to keep the American people safe and to assure prosperity here at home and peace abroad.

I think all of us here share the belief that we have to maintain the strongest military on the planet, that we have to support our troops, make sure that they are properly trained, properly equipped, that they are provided with a mission that allows them to succeed. All of us here also agree that the strength of our military has to be combined with the wisdom and force of our diplomacy and that we are going to be committed to building and strengthening alliances around the world to advance American interests and American security. And so in discussions with this entire team, what I am excited about is a consensus not only among those of us standing here today but across a broad section of the American people that now is the time for us to regain American leadershp in all its dimensions and I am very confident that each of these individuals would not be leaving the outstanding work that they're currently doing if they weren't convinced that they can work as an effective team.

One last point I will make. I assembled this team because I'm a strong believer in strong personalities and strong opinions. I think that's how that's how the best decisions are made. One of the dangers in a White House, based on my reading of history, is that you get wrapped up in groupthink and everybody agrees with everything and there's no discussion, there are no dissenting views. So I'm going to be welcoming a vigorous debate inside the White House but understand, I will be setting policy as President. I will be responsible for the vision that this team carries out and I expect them to implement that vision once decisions are made. So as Harry Truman said, the buck will stop with me. And nobody who's standing here would have agreed to join this administration unless they had confidence that, in fact, that vision was one that would help secure the American people and our interests.

There are more significant moments, particularly his comment on maintaining "the strongest military on the planet". Add to his comments, those of his new team and they leave us with the impression of a strong, confident, unified team ready to go on Jan. 20th.

Obama's comfort in the press conference environment, responding with complex, intelligent answers off the cuff is a very pleasant change. There's no cringe-worthy moments. Also worthy of note just as a small reflection on growth of opportunity for all Americans, there were only three white males on the stage out of a group of eight people. Out of the nominees, only two of six. But the real point wasn't their diversity. The real point is that each of those people was there on merit, because of the strength of their experience and accomplishments. It was impressive to see.