Monday, December 31, 2007

Be It Hereby Resolved....

To my all my friends and readers of Simply Left Behind:

Please have a safe and healthy and happy...and most of all, DEMOCRATIC, 2008.

My resolutions this year are simple.

I want to restore my health to the level it was a few years back, meaning back in shape and to stop getting sick all the time.

I want to take Simply Left Behind to the next level, which means whoring the shit out of it.

Finally, I want to really launch my NotPresident campaign.

Have a happy, folks, and don't forget your designated driver!

How Odd...

...Democracy without a war?
DEOTHANG, Bhutan (Reuters) - Bhutanese voted on Monday to elect members to a new upper house of parliament for the first time, a step towards democracy after a century of absolute monarchy.

The tiny, conservative Himalayan kingdom has been preparing for democracy since former monarch Jigme Singye Wangchuck decided to hand power to an elected government, even as many of his citizens said they were quite happy with the way things were.
Not a shot fired. No nation invaded and displaced the king. No trillions of dollars spent to spread a philosophy.

In short, democracy grew from within, because the people were ready for it. In this case, the existing government was, as well.

And yet, even here in a country where the first TVs only came in 1999, the ugly head of Iraq is reared:
"I'm afraid that our country might end up like other countries who are having problems because of democracy," said Mila Wangchuk, 28, who runs a real estate business.
It's taken nearly twenty years for the king to agree to a general call for democracy. In that time, many Bhutanese have been expelled and ethnic Nepalese living in Bhutan have been denied the vote. We're not talking about a paradise here.

But it's a start, and should serve as a beacon to any war-mongering knucklehead who wants to be President that we will be vigilant about how our troops are used in the future, because here we have a clear example of how to do democracy the right way.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

An Endorsement

I've put this off long enough, even though in truth, I don't have to do this until the New York primary. Since that gets lost in the flurry of Super Tuesday endorsements, I figured I may as well stake my claim now.

I've spent the entire past year on the fence about whom to support for the Democratic presidential nomination. I had my list narrowed down to three people: Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and then, Barack Obama.

Edwards I discounted quickly, when his lack of character and toughness was on display for all to see with the whole "Catholic League/Bloggers" debacle. If he couldn't either shit or get off the pot..."Oooh, I don't want to arouse my base against me! Oooh, I don't want to take on the big, mean Catholic League!"...on that ridiculously inconsequential issue; if that's his idea of leadership, then he was the wrong choice. And that was just one issue: his flipflopping apology for the Iraq war vote smelled too calculated, and then there was the whole heartstring tug of Elizabeth's cancer, and running or not running.

Some will say that Marcotte and McEwan resigned of their own accord. That may be true, but I'd be willing to bet if Edwards had personally sat down with them and assured them that he'd take the heat (and that message was reinforced across the board), they'd still be blogging for Edwards today.

In truth, Edwards was on the list more as a hat-tip to the fact I voted for him in 2004 than anything he's done since.

Which left Obama and Clinton.

I admire both of them for different reasons, and none of those reasons have anything to do with the monumental courage each showed by just tossing a chapeau in the ring.

Barack Obama speaks to me of a new generation, a generation of ideals and idealists, unafraid to talk about issues despite the fact that he might actually have to take a stand on them. I like that. It appeals to the rabble-rouser in me. Even in his gaffes, he seems to have at least thought about what he leaves unsaid (as when he shorthanded his answer about meeting with Ahmadinejad, Castro, and Chavez).

Hillary Clinton just knows so damned much and seems to have an answer for every question thrown at her: not only are her answers detailed, they're usually light years ahead of anything anyone else throws out there. Many of her contenders' answers sound more like "And then, at this point, we pray it all works out".

There is no perfect candidate in this race, to be sure, and so this isn't a choice between the more perfect of two people.

Neither is it a choice between the lesser of two evils as even some on the left have tried to paint a vote for Hillary as a vote for evil.

Without disclosing too much, I've known of Hillary since her days working with Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children's Defense Fund, with whom I've had some indirect contact. No less a conservative than Marty Peretz (nominally a liberal (LINO?), believe it or not) has called Edelman "Hillary's closest sister and ideological soul mate."

Which is why I find all the negativity from the left about Hillary so amusing and confounding. And why I also find the love-fest for Barack so intriguing.

After all, a careful examination of their voting records and public statements about Iraq show they agree on about 90-95% of the issues. And yet, Hillary's a DINO while Barack is a liberal love child.

I ain't buying that. It's easy to say "I would not have voted for the Iraq war authorization" and seem to mean it. It's another thing to skip the vote on the "Iranian war authorization" (not even officially, just a "sense of the Senate" vote), then to chide others for having voted for it, particularly when you've voted for every single Iraq war funding bill that you've been able to.

Ironically, the candidate who's being touted as "change" is not.

In eight years in the Senate, Hillary has shown an unique capacity to enlist the help of people of all stripes. No one who serves with her has too many unkind things to say about her. That could be useful in a Presidency that, for the first term at least, is going to be about cleaning up the messes..."Mom."

On the other hand, it does leave her open to charges of being too conservative, ironically the same charges leveled against her husband prior to his election, and look at what happened in those eight years: the greatest economic boom this nation, the world, had ever seen, without resorting to full scale war, and eight years of protection from terror attacks on our soil.

I say, "ironically," because Hillary was viewed in many corners as a bulwark of liberal thought in the Clinton administration and cabinet.

Barack Obama has demonstrated that he's not a man of character to me, despite his outward image. His actions speak volumes. With Hillary Clinton, we know what we're getting, and guess what? It's not a whole lot different than we'd get with Obama, but at least she's unfraid of her decisions.

Hillary Clinton should be the Democratic nominee for President. She has my vote.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Friday, December 28, 2007

Friday Music Blogging

It was an obvious choice, made poignant by the recent death of Dan Fogelberg

Nobdy Asked Me, But

Simply Left Behind's Man Of The Year -
Former President Al Gore

The Year In Review

1) Best hockey fight of the year (March's hard to believe this wasn't a weekly feature from the get-go)

2) Rupert Murdoch's homophobia rears its ugly head. (May 3)

3) Mad squirrels (June 15)

4) Was it a bad year for George Clooney or what? He cracks up his motorcycle, releases Oceans Thirteen and then this? (June 22)

5) Global warming is not just Earth's problem (June 29)

6) In just over a year, we can forget the past eight years...(July 13)

7) Why Paris Hilton will never leave the spotlight. (July 27)

8) I'm still training hard for this (August 17)

9) When bugs marry (October 12)

10) Blaming Hollywood for being a crappy screenwriter. Yup. A Republican! (November 2)

11) One final thought: isn't it ironic that, in our "global war on Islamic extremists", we've engaged countries that have had women leaders (Turkey, Pakistan, and Indonesia) but we deride perhaps the best qualified leader in our own country for the most trivial of reasons? Are Islamists better than we are? Smarter?

Next week: Top stories I'll be watching in 2008.

P.S. Jonah Goldberg's new book "Liberal Fascism" looks to be a sure whiner, so we should all Googlebomb it to death!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

A Bit Of A Thought Experiment

The year is 2025. America has gone bankrupt. Eight years of Bush's overspending on a preventable war put us into such a hole that it became impossible to dig our way out, particularly after oil prices skyrocketed and the Chinese called in their chits on our debt.

America is unrecognizable. Our resources are being plundered by other nations for their own use and profit. Our citizens subsist, they no longer thrive, but for a small number who have thrown their lot in with the "invasion".

I mention all this because over the weekend I was watching one of my favorite guilty pleasures: They Live, a 1988 film directed by John Carpenter.

Ostensibly, the plot revolves around an invading army from the Andromeda galaxy that has come to earth to feed off us and our natural resources. The army has co-opted our media and advertising, sending "subliminable" messages to "OBEY. CONFORM. MARRY AND REPRODUCE. CONSUME. SLEEP."

Most people are unaware of this invasion. Some are collaborators, helping the invaders in exchange for "a little taste of that good life". A few figure out there's a problem and try to recruit an underground resistance.

And then I turned off Fox News...


1) "I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass... and I'm all out of bubblegum."

2) "You... you look like your face fell in the cheese dip back in 1957."

3) "You see, I take these glasses off, she looks like a regular person, doesn't she? Put 'em back on...formaldehyde-face!"

4) "What's wrong with having it good for a change? Now they're gonna let us have it good if we just help 'em. They're gonna leave us alone, let us make some money. You can have a little taste of that good life too. Now I know you want it, hell everybody does. What's the threat? We all sell out every day, might as well be on the winning team."

Who do you think will be at the border, welcoming the Chinese businessmen in with open arms and deposit slips?

The Bell Tolls Once More

When the dust settles and history has its say on the Bush administration's ill-conceived and tragically executed Middle East and South Asia policy, this one event may end up being the capstone, the signature event that ties together the utter abject lunacy of the warmongers in this nation:
RAWALPINDI, Pakistan (CNN) -- Pakistan former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has died after a suicide bombing that killed at least 14 of her supporters, ex-government spokesman Tariq Azim Khan and Pakistan's primary television networks said.

Bhutto suffered bullet wounds in the aftermath of the bomb attack, TV networks report.
The execution-style assassination speaks to a pretty clear plot, and the suspects are fairly likely: the military.

Finally, Bush has pushed an "ally" to the brink. Pakistanis are not oparticularly endeared to Pervez Musharraf, who was seen as caving into Bush's imperial hubris. The return of Bhutto, supported by the United States, put Musharraf in a bind and left him not a lot of wriggle room. It was clear the US wanted him defanged.

To be clear, he was never a staunch ally of US policy, just US money. The link between Pakistan's covert intelligence service, the ISI, and the terrorists who brought down four planes into two cities here in the United States are pretty clear, and it's pretty clear that Musharraf had at least condoned that funding.

While we've been hunting terrorists in southern Afghanistan, Musharraf has been cutting asylum deals with tribes in northern Pakistan, on the border of Afghanistan, that precluded searches in those regions for Al Qaeda and Taliban forces.

Indeed, it almost seems he has stood four-square against our interests. While we've been working hard to prop up the Karzai government in Afghanistan, he's been engaged in cross-border bickering over the tribal regions.

He has power, and he intends to keep it, and it's looking more and more by any means necessary. Earlier today, a rally for another more moderate former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, was disrupted by bombs that killed 4 people. And now this. And all this comes on the heels of a deliberate and planned program to disrupt large political rallies, such as the one on October 18, when 136 people died and nearly 400 were injured, as Bhutto's triumphant return was marred by a suicide bomber.

This is a dangerous man with a nuclear bomb who's nation has a history of supporting terrorists that have attacked America.

You know, an ally.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Things You Miss When You Read Blogs

When you spend your days reading blog after blog in Blogtopia (© Skippy, the Bush Kangaroo), you forget there's an entire moderate-progressive movement out there that makes you look like a left-winger.

Indeed, yesterday's thoughtpiece on Christ, Christmas and living life in the 21st Century made me cringe a little to post: it firmly placed me in the Ceiling Cat corner. Someone who believes in a traditional religious experience, not atheist, and not sardonically supporting the Flying Spaghetti Monster in some hipster rank-out on his upbringing.

Reading blog after blog, you find that Hillary is a criminal (or worse, a sell-out), Obama's cool, Edwards is even cooler but looks like he won't make it (but we should all support him anyway), and why in the hell don't the Democrats in Congress show some backbone and impeach the bastards?

And then, you take a breath and read a story like this, and you realize that so little of the left-wing of this country, nevermind the electorate, is represented on-line:
While they overwhelmingly support that agenda, the bloc of freshmen has begun casting votes against such minor procedural motions in an effort, Democratic sources and Republican critics say, to demonstrate their independence from their leadership. The number of votes that the potentially vulnerable newcomers to Capitol Hill cast against House leaders is tallied and watched closely by interest groups and political foes.

Such is the political life of many of the 42 freshman House Democrats, a sizable number of them moderates and conservatives who must straddle the fence between supporting their party's interests and distancing themselves from a mostly liberal leadership as they gear up for their first reelection battle next fall.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other members of the party's leadership are happy to tolerate the independence on procedural matters. Less than three hours after opposing the late-October journal vote, the same six freshmen sided with Pelosi as Democrats tried, and failed, to override President Bush's veto of a bill to expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program by $35 billion over five years, legislation that Pelosi has called her "crown jewel."
And then you remember that, if it wasn't for these "conservative Democrats," there wouldn't even BE a chance to talk about the crimes of this administration: Democrats wouldn't be in charge, and we'd be watching the dodderings of Dennis Hastert and Trent Lott in the leadsership roles.

Try telling that to the more militant rabble on the left, however.

To give you an idea how valuable these freshmen are:
Protecting the 42 freshman Democrats, the largest partisan class since 73 Republicans took office in 1994, has been the top priority for key Democratic strategists such as Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.). The freshmen get special treatment from leaders, including a weekly meeting with Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (Md.). And they receive frequent advice on how to vote from Emanuel and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Those are some pretty heavy hitters. My suspicion is, there's an even smaller core that get direction straight from Pelosi.

This isn't about power. It's about preventing another 109th Congress, and watching the pickings of the American economy get plucked by Republicans and their cronies at the expense of the middle- and working-class Americans they would court for votes.

Imagine the recent sub-prime mortgage debacle as handled by Republicans, for example. It would have been hushed up and hidden until after next November, at which point a) it would have been too late to help ten million American familes and b) the banks would have gotten away wholly scot-free, whereas now there's still a chance that they'll be held accountable for their predatory lending practices.

It is a compromise, I know, but it's one that simply has to be done right now. There's not a lot of wiggle room. The Republicans aren't defeated and crushed yet.

This does bring a new dynamic to Congress in 2008. My guess is, keep an eye out for a lot of sub-committee and committee meetings on a variety of topics, just to put them on the table, like wire-tapping and other crimes against humanity and civil rights by the Bushies.

Just don't expect them to come to the floor until after November 4. Then look out.

Slight Delay

I had an urgent doctor's appointment this morning, so was unable to do my usually 40 minutes of ranting here. I'll need to do some catching up and then I'm good to go.

Anybody know a good cure for leprosy?

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

So This Is Christmas what have you done?

We live in terrfying times: terrifying men who do terrifying things with terrifying consequences. Our economy is on the brink of disaster. Our world about to crumble around us to satisfy the greed and lust and jealousy of small people. And there is precious little you or I can do to prevent this from happening. These events are larger than we.
Luke 2:10-11 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
Today, we must cling to whatever faith we have on this planet, whether it be Jesus or Yahweh, Buddha or Mohammad, Triple Goddess or the Protector.

Today, we must remember that it is vitally important that, in our own lives, we live the examples set forth for us.
When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying...

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.

You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.
We dedicate our lives to live in the Graces that Jesus has stated so clearly here, and that others before and since have reminded us since time immemorial.

No sardonic cynical "thousand points of light" can persuade us to be the kind of people we want to be. It is in our nature to be kind, just as it is in our nature to be evil.

And we feel small against the world, so who could blame us for wanting vengeance against those who have taken this world from the collective soul of its people? The frustration of that vengeance mounts as we learn that we may never collect that pound of flesh.

Instead, we must turn our light on, and welcome those who, like us, travel these treacherous roads filled with bandits and bastards, and shine the path ahead for them, as those who have come before us have shined their lights for our feet to follow.

The essence of goodness within us flows from us, but also to us, restoring our souls. It is not God who maketh us lie beside still waters, but the pieces of God within all of us who have prepared the table and the road.

There will be those who would take advantage of your goodness. Let them. Learn from them. Unwittingly, they have given you a gift far more valuable than the purse they have stolen from you.

Money can always be made, but lessons cannot be unlearned. The lesson that generosity is its own reward is one that will be tested and tested again. The trouble with our society is its objectivity. We measure based on a demonstrable scale or dollars and cents, but our lives are lived in a far more precise mode: we each know the balance between what we have, what we need, and what we want. Gnothi Seauton. Know Thyself.

It is those whom mock and antagonize us to live a different lifestyle who will not inherit the peace that we inherit when the time comes. They win by making us forfeit that peace.

We win by refusing to give in. To thine own self be true. You have a value to yourself that far exceeds any riches you are promised "if you just buy this car". Who you are, what you know, is enough. You have all the tools you will ever need to live the life you want to live. You are enough.

Those who would call you unChristian you may mock, for it is written:
Mathew 6:6-7 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
You are not alone. We who strive for grace are all around you, praying in secret as the Lord commanded. It may not seem that way, when all around we hear our faith being trampled by those who would warp and twist the Word for their own use. Their hearts are hardened.

Ours are not. We are the willows in the winds of time. We will stand against this storm, just as we have stood against all storms of the past. And we will pass along what we know to a new generation, and seed the ground, inches at a time.

This is what we have done. This is what we shall do. May peace be with you all, my friends.

Merry Christmas Music

John Lennon - War Is Over/Happy Christmas

Monday, December 24, 2007

Twelfth Day of Christmas Music

Santa Claus Is Coming To Town - Bruce Springsteen

It's Like A Glass Of Champagne...

...all these bubbles bursting. Only it ain't champagne, more like sewage.

The housing market boom has turned to bust, and with it topple many cherished ideals of the Republican party platform: specifically, in this case, the tax cut.

When Bush proposed his tax cuts, coming on the heels of the first balanced budgets in decades and the first budget surplus in centuries, it was assumed that much of the tax burden would shift down the government scale: states and localities would be forced to raise revenue in order to finance unfunded mandates the Republican Congress was throwing their way, like, say No Child Left Behind.

States and localities, of course, were having their own tax battles. No one in their right mind, in the greed infested environment so polluted with the nonsensical notion that tax cuts were actually *good* for the economy, was about to impose new taxes.

Salvation came in the form of the housing bubble. A community could merely tweak the tax rate slightly, and generate brand new revenue based solely on the fact that house values were skyrocketing and all the community had to do was keep appraisals in line with that valuation.

Worked fine until the bubble burst:
The real estate frenzy that once filled public coffers with property taxes has over the last two years given way to a devastating bust. Rather than christening new facilities, the mayor [Eric Feichthaler, Cape Coral, Florida] finds himself picking through the wreckage of speculative excess and broken dreams.

Last month, the city eliminated 18 building inspector jobs and 20 other positions within its Department of Community Development. They were no longer needed because construction has all but ceased. The city recently hired a landscaping company to cut overgrown lawns surrounding hundreds of abandoned homes.

“People are underwater on their houses, and they have just left,” Mr. Feichthaler says. “That road widening may have to wait. It will be difficult to construct the high school. We know there are needs, but we are going to have to wait a little bit.”

Waiting, scrimping, taking stock: This is the vernacular of the moment for a nation reckoning with the leftovers of a real estate boom gone sour. From the dense suburbs of northern Virginia to communities arrayed across former farmland in California, these are the days of pullback: with real estate values falling, local governments are cutting services, eliminating staff and shelving projects.
So let me draw the picture for you: a lower tax base from the Federal government on down to your city or town; a crumbling infrastructure in terms of bridges (remember the I-35 bridge in Minnesota?), highways, streets, and public facilities like schools, hospitals, and services like police and fire departments; a shrinking tax base as baby-boomers begin to retire, forcing Social Security to call in its chits from the general tax revenue; an aging population demanding health care reform; a horribly tragic, wasteful war that's drained one trillion dollars plus from our collective nest eggs-- and the worst is yet to come.

Next year, another two million or so mortgages will have to be re-assessed as they are due for drastic rate hikes. That's going to create yet another contraction in the real estate market (barring a drastic intervention by the Fool On The Hill, George W Bush) that's going to fling off yet another wave of revenue cuts for states and communities.

And yet, Republicans nationwide applaud this kind of shit. I guess living in a gated community has some advantages but what happens when the gatekeepers can't get to work or can't get to an emergency room? Gates can trap inside as well as keep people out.

Not a pretty picture for the holiday season, huh?

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Eleventh Day of Christmas Music

Have A Holly Jolly Christmas - Burl Ives

Featuring scenes from the animated TV show "Rudolph The Red Nose Reindeer". This clip is so weird, I'm having crack flashbacks...

Le Droit Du Seigneur & Economic Royalty

In feudal times, all who worked for the lord of the land submitted to droit du seigneur, which demanded, among other things, any virgin woman to be married was offered to the manorist first, in order to deflower her (aka prima nocti, or law of the first night).

Should she be silly or unlucky enough to become pregnant, well, that was her family's burden. In addition to spreading his genetic material (believing that peasants and serfs were of lesser blood, so "improving" his people), it was also a form of suppression: by humiliating his charges, they would be less likely to rise up in revolt or even to ask a boon of the lord.

Well, to no one's surprise, this elitist, royalist tradition continues today, albeit in a mutated form:
A Treasury-backed plan to stabilize a vital segment of the credit markets has been shelved, the banks involved said yesterday.

The strategy called for banks across the globe to create a $100 billion fund aimed at jump-starting the troubled market for short-term loans, acting like a credit card for companies.

But the architects of the plan, which was developed by Citigroup and other leading financial institutions at series of meetings convened by Treasury officials this fall, struggled to recruit other banks and called it quits this week.
This plan was a key privatized element of Bush's mortgage "bailout" plan, supposedly directed at borrowers but in truth, designed more to protect lenders.

The larger commercial banks, like Citibank or JP Morgan Chase, could afford to absorb some of the shortfalls and defaults that would cripple smaller lenders. The $100 million fund would limit their losses to this amount, and that risk would be spread out across a number of banks around the world.

Makes sense, right? This way, the credit markets don't dry up so quickly, and might even weather the storm.

So why is this being shelved?
Earlier this week, Paulson and the banks behind the plan said they were committed to its establishment. That changed yesterday after Treasury officials and the banks, which included Bank of America and J.P. Morgan Chase, said that the fund was "not needed at this time" because market conditions had improved.
Subtle, that.

Market conditions have improved, a little (read: bank earnings have stabilized), but the economy itself (and the money that goes to pay mortgages) has not. In business-speak, the banks took a look at the risk and realized they were a lot more likely to lose the entire $100 million than they were a month ago:
The plan would have helped major issuers of asset-backed commercial paper called structured investment vehicles (SIVs). These semi-independent funds, set up by Wall Street banks to make complicated investments, have suffered deeply from the credit crunch.

The SIVs issue short-term loans and invest that money in securities backed in many cases by mortgages. But after a wave of defaults and foreclosures swept across the nation, the value of the securities held by the SIVs plummeted. The debt markets panicked, and the SIVs found it impossible to sell off any holdings.

With those large losses and a climate of fear in the marketplace, the SIVs were unable to issue short-term loans.

Since then, many banks, in particular Citigroup, have moved more than $100 billion in troubled assets from their SIVs onto their own balance sheets, alleviating a key rationale for the rescue fund. The transfer means the banks are agreeing to back loans made by the SIVs.
Prima Nocti, indeed. These guys pumped the American homeowner full of their vile seed, and now walk away with millions of pregnant mortgages about to come due, which they can easily write off their books now. Essentially, the banks are telling Paulson, the Treasury Department and the Bush administration, "Screw you, this is your problem, you fix it!"

George Will, a man no one really need admire, has said one admirable thing in his life: the American capitalist system is designed to privatize profit, but socialize losses, except when it comes to the individual wage-earner. If a business loses it's headquarters in a foreclosure, that business can write that loss off. A human family? Eh. Not so much. If a bank forecloses on a mortgage it holds, it can write off that loss. I lend you a $100, and I have to go through hoops and garters to prove to the IRS there was indeed an actual loan if you can't pay me back. And our transaction was probably better documented than the banks!

Next year will be a pivotal year in the mortgage and credit markets. This move tells me the banks are expecting bigger problems than anyone anticipated.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Tenth Day of Christmas Music

Scrooged - Put A Little Love In Your Heart


Same song, done by Annie Lennox and Al Green

The Bill Is About Due

Bill Clinton is The. Greatest. President. Ever.

That's not just my opinion. The reasons can be found on the biography on the White House website:
During the administration of William Jefferson Clinton, the U.S. enjoyed more peace and economic well being than at any time in its history. He was the first Democratic president since Franklin D. Roosevelt to win a second term. He could point to the lowest unemployment rate in modern times, the lowest inflation in 30 years, the highest home ownership in the country's history, dropping crime rates in many places, and reduced welfare rolls. He proposed the first balanced budget in decades and achieved a budget surplus. As part of a plan to celebrate the millennium in 2000, Clinton called for a great national initiative to end racial discrimination.
History will ultimately judge if Mr Clinton deserves to be placed in the pantheon of Lincoln and Washington.

President Bush...not so much.

We're starting to see the forms in which history will hand up its judgement of Presidents Clinton and Bush in, of all places, the Democratic primaries.

Barack Obama has been saying it's time to "turn the page" on the partisanship and scandals that have been rife in this country since the Clinton years. Correctly, he has pointed out that he could win in states that Hillary Clinton could not.

Hillary Clinton has begun running on her husband's record, embracing the booming economy and stable foreign relations (and implicitly, how President Clinton stopped every domestic terror attack in the country on his watch, save for the one committed three weeks after he took office).

History's judgement is being reflected in the polls. People are warming to the idea of a return to Clintonia. Hillary has apparently turned her awkward momentum around and is beginning to firm up her poll numbers. Indeed, she has begun to equate Obama with Bush, if you can believe it:
But the unchanging core of Clinton's message is her experience, and in recent days she has presented the election as a binary choice: between a competent, experienced Clinton and novices such as Obama. "That's the kind of logic that got us George Bush in the first place," she said this week in Iowa.
This message appears to be resonating with the electorate.

Oddly, not much of the scandal that plagued the Clinton administration have seemed to stick in this race. Certainly, the Lewinski affair remains a dim memory to most people, particularly in light of the heinous, illegal and unconstitutional behavior of the Bush administration. Somehow, people are willing to forget a blow job in this atmosphere. Which makes Obama's campaign theme of "turn the page" that much more remarkable for its clumsiness.

It remains to be seen just how much damage equating Obama to Bush will have, but if anything, a reminder of any likeness to Bush is going to make people stop and think.

Hillary is in an unique position as the first candidate for President to be able to run with an actual President in her entourage (who is not a father, of course) and we should have seen it coming that she would begin to more closely tie herself to his legacy as the race began to tighten.

Hillary is a known quantity. She's been vetted a few hundred times in the past sixteen years, and there's not much people have to learn about her. Obama's great strength in this race is that he's kept it close as people have gotten to know him, and managed to have others speak for his character, like Oprah Winfrey.

This, despite having written several books about his life. He's practically Proustian in his recollections!

The race is turning into the home stretch now, and that people don't know Obama may now be his weakness. The electorate generally prefers the devil it knows, and the electorate views all candidates as devils.

The more Bill Clinton appears on the campaign trail and the tighter Hillary Clinton hitches her wagon to his legacy, the tougher it will become for Obama to score victories. In fact, the right wing charge of "Billary" may prove to be a useful asset in the Super Tuesday primary season, since it neatly sums up the point that Hillary was a major force in Bill's policy shop.

People need to know that, and remember how good the 90s were to their pocketbooks and their families, and they will come to Clinton in droves.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Ninth Day Of Christmas Music

The Kinks - Father Christmas

Friday Cat Kitten Blogging

I hait mah dadby...

Nobody Asked Me, But....

Special Horny Holiday Edition

1) Humping sidewalk

2) Humping Santa (h/t to not_over_it)

3) Humping a bicycle.

4) HOLY SHIT! There really IS a Giant Rat Of Sumatra!

5) Talk about a bitch slap!

6) I guess things run in a family way in the Spears' family. You know about the teen pregnancy of Britney's younger sister. Did you know mother Lynne has the chutzpah to write a book about parenting? Who's teaching her?

6) I'm trying to figure out how she kept the dress from falling apart.

7) Hillary. Obama. John. It really doesn't matter who wins Iowa, New Hampshire, or even South Carolina. The December 31 fund-raising numbers, counting cash on hand, will pretty much decide who the nominee will be. The smart money is on Hillary.

8) More evidence the bird flu is mutating.

9) Just in time for....well, one holiday, the Menorah Christmas tree! I'm sending one to Bill O'Reilly next year.

10) Speaking of which, personal circumstances this year dictated that I was unable to write yet another Christmas novel. I guess next year.

11) Bet they needed dogs to sniff out these crooks....


Actually, this isn't that funny. There's a cholera epidemic in Uganda, which is why these folks were arrested.

12) Um...who? Why was I not nominated?

Next Week: Special Year End Edition. My favorite stories of 2007.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Eighth Day Of Christmas Music Blogging

The Pogues featuring Kristy MacColl - Fairytale of New York

Now we know why Matt Dillon ended up starring in the video...;-)

Basking In Reflected Glory

My good friend, key member of Team Actor212, and early adopter of the Simply Left Behind habit, Miss Cellania, is a featured contributor to the ABC News World News Tonight webcast.

Open the player, click on the "More Videos" link in the player and scroll down to "Viral Videos 2007", let the commercial play (UGH! but it's only 30 seconds...) and then bask in the glory that IS Miss Cellania.


Duh. Here's the permalink to the piece.

Suddenly, He's The Great Communicator...

Bush will hold a press conference today.

That's the second this month. The first was where he all but called Congress "do-nothing" (unlike the 109th and last Republican-led conference, which did even less), and then promptly got spnaked all over the place over the NIE report on Iran's nuclear program. Bush's feeble response was to try to make lemons out of lemonade and prove that the NIE supported his claims all along.

The NIE most certainly did not support claims of World War III (the implication in October was that this was imminent if Iran continued to develop their (knowledge of, deliberately parenthetically) nuclear arms.

That issue still hasn't gone away, as Bush claimed he was only apprised of the new NIE in late November, but sources close to the Oval Office have been quoted as saying that Vice President Darth Vader was briefed as early as March and that the President himself exhibited knowledge of the new assessment even in February of 2007.

It has, however, been overshadowed by a far more urgent issue, and that is the deliberate destruction of torture videotapes held by the CIA that had been subpoenaed by a Federal court.

This is a smoking gun issue, and early reports cite officials as high up as former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez as having discussed the destruction of the tapes before the actual destruction took place.

Errr, "conspiracy to obstruct justice" is the first charge that leaps to mind.

"Contempt of court" is another possible charge.

This is the smoking gun issue for pro-impeachment forces. This is an illegal act, and appears to have been done, if not under the direction of, with foreknowledge by senior officials of the Bush administration, if not Bush and Cheney themselves.

The timing is the problem, however. Obviously, this issue will work its way up to the Supreme Court, and as we all know, that court is stacked with Bush partisans.

Will they set aside personal relationships for the greater good of the Constitution?

I doubt it. But I can hope.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Seventh Day of Christmas Music

Etlon John - Levon

Oh Brother! Where The Fuck Art Thou?

Let's assume that this story is true for a second:

Isn't his wife, Elizabeth, terminal? Isn't it pretty clear that she's likely not only aware of this relationship, but has possibly even given it her blessing?

Given the, um, rather randy way the Republican line-up has comported themselves in their personal affairs...Rudy Giuliani himself has almost as many spouses as half the Democratic field...who really cares?

Now, let's take the story's merits under close examination by parsing it:
The ENQUIRER has learned exclusively that Rielle Hunter, a woman linked to Edwards in a cheating scandal earlier this year, is more than six months pregnant – and she’s told a close confidante that Edwards is the father of her baby!
OK, so we have some hearsay, second hand information that John Edwards is the father of an illegitimate child with a woman he has long been associated with.

No direct proof, not even the word of the woman herself. Just some overheard gossip.

Let's move on:
The ENQUIRER has now confirmed not only that Rielle is expecting, but that she’s gone into hiding with the help of a former aide to Edwards . The visibly pregnant blonde has relocated from the New York area to Chapel Hill, N.C. where she is living in an upscale gated community near political operative Andrew Young, who’s been extremely close to Edwards for years and was a key official in his presidential campaign.
Hang on, this story has one more twist:
Young – a 41-year-old married man with young children -- now claims HE is the father of Rielle’s baby.
So she moves to Chapel Hill to be...either closer to the father of her baby or to duck out media scrutiny.

On the prima facie evidence, which seems more likely? If she's ducking media attention, then moving to the same community as a high profile campaign official hardly seems to be the way to go, don't you think? Gated community or not, the media will be camped out in that area, waiting.

That's hardly ducking out!
In a statement issued to The ENQUIRER through her attorney, Rielle said: “The fact that I am expecting a child is my personal and private business. This has no relationship to nor does it involve John Edwards in any way. Andrew Young is the father of my unborn child.”

From the woman herself, we have the admission that indeed, it's not Edwards' baby, and that Edwards never even had sex with her, unlike the Monica Lewinski affair, in which Monica herself kept quiet about it until she had to testify.


TO: The Republican Right Wing
CC:: "Eggman" Matt Drudge


We have bigger problems in this nation than to get tangled up in the private affairs of people.

I thought you learned that when the country viciously backlashed against the Clitnon impeachment?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Sixth Day Of Christmas Music

Yorge Yorgesson - I Yust Go Nuts At Christmas

A Black Mark For Green

At the weekend, I discussed the coming oil crunch and how alternative energy sources might stack up to replace fossil fuels.

Specifically, when it comes to corn ethanol, there's a negative energy impact in converting from fossil fuels: it takes a lot of energy to produce one gallon of corn ethanol, more energy than is derived.

A lot of that energy comes from the petroleum-based fertilizers that corn needs in order to grow efficiently enough to create a supply of ethanol.

There's also a downside to using that much fertilizer:
The nation's corn crop is fertilized with millions of pounds of nitrogen-based fertilizer. And when that nitrogen runs off fields in Corn Belt states, it makes its way to the Mississippi River and eventually pours into the Gulf, where it contributes to a growing "dead zone" — a 7,900-square-mile patch so depleted of oxygen that fish, crabs and shrimp suffocate.

The dead zone was discovered in 1985 and has grown fairly steadily since then, forcing fishermen to venture farther and farther out to sea to find their catch. For decades, fertilizer has been considered the prime cause of the lifeless spot.

With demand for corn booming, some researchers fear the dead zone will expand rapidly, with devastating consequences.
In short, you kill off the Louisiana shrimp farmers, which is a critical link in the economic recovery of the region.

Corn prices have doubled in the past five years, from $2 a bushel to $4. That makes corn a very tempting crop to plant for any farmer. It also makes it impossible for environmentalists to ask farmers to cut back on production, or to create environmental buffer zones so that run-off is less of a problem (i.e. plant nitorgen-fixing crops like alfalfa that will thrive in a fertilizer rich environment).

The dilemna can be summed up this way:
Farmers realize the connection between their crop and problems downstream, but with the price of corn soaring, it doesn't make sense to grow anything else. And growing corn isn't profitable without nitrogen-based fertilizer.
The flip side of this problem (and isn't there always?) is that, with a dead zone of over-nitrogenated water taking over more and more of the Gulf, there's less and less chance of having carbon scrubbed out of the atmosphere and back into the life cycle on the reefs and other offshore ecosystems. Algae bloom into overpopulation, die off en masse, and then suck all the oxygen out of the water as they drop to the bottom of the ocean, decaying.

There's nothing left at the surface to exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen until the algae levels balance out again. Plus, the oxygen at the bottom is taken away, meaning shellfish (who can't outswim the depletion) die off.

This happens on an annual basis now, but the dead zone season has been extending each year, forcing shrimpers to go further and further off-shore, endangering fragile ecosystems that include larger pelagic fish and mammals.

And as the dead zone grows larger and stays longer, it may actually trap many fish and mammals within its confines, where even the fastest swimmers won't be able to outrace their deaths.

In other words, dolphins, whales and sharks are dying off because of shrimpers due to the unintended consequences of corn ethanol research.

Which was supposed to help save them and their fragile environments.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Fifth Day Of Christmas Music

The Waitresses - Christmas Wrapping

Bush Got What He Wanted Out Of Bali

He delayed, ran down the clock, deferred, distracted and otherwise pushed off the tough decisions on global warming to the next shnook to sit in his chair:
NUSA DUA, Indonesia — The world’s faltering effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions got a new lease on life on Saturday, as delegates from 187 countries agreed to negotiate a new accord over the next two years — pushing the crucial debates about United States participation into the administration of a new American president.
(emphasis added) I should add that Bush also got India and China to agree that they would have to take "measurable steps" to reduce carbon emissions. Their concessions at Bali are tantamount to Bush saying he'll withdraw American troops from Iraq "as Iraqis stand up": meaningless, ambiguous and ultimately up to India and China to decide how and when to measure emissions.

So there will be two more years of "jaw, jaw, jaw," as Churchill might have put it, altho in this context, not approvingly I'm sure.

Can you imagine what might have happened in this country if, instead of wasting nearly a trillion dollars on a quixotic quest to quickly inflame the Iraqi quagmire, Bush had instead tackled global warming and climate change, if only for the protection and security of this nation?

If Osama bin Laden is truly bent on destroying the American way of life, he need only wait a few decades. In fact, he can claim credit for it, since he will have distracted this country at nearly its last possible chance to prevent a worldwide catastrophe that will level the entire global economy, if not the entire global power structure.

He might, indeed, have his caliphate after all, simply because Bush had not the wit, had not the capacity, had not even the horse sense, to close the barn door.

Despite Bush's flummoxed approach to foreign policy and to world leaders, the world itself still looks to the US for a lot. Like it or not, interventionist or not, America is a beacon of prosperity and freedom, so if we think a problem is serious enough to tackle (that doesn't involve invading another country and raping its sovereignty), the world will sit up and take notice.

Even China. Even India. Maybe especially China and India, since they are clearly modeling their future economies on our own. We were, after all, wildly successful in preaching the "benefits" of capitalism, while conveniently leaving out some of the shortfalls (to-wit, a real lack of accountability).

You know something? Guess what? This is going to require sacrifice from everyone but especially from those who can afford it the most, meaning us. Again, imagine that foolish trillion spent in a good cause, as a show of good faith, trying to implement reduced carbon technology for India, for China, for Brazil and Argentina and Venezuela.

In America.

Do you think we might have been taken seriously at Bali? Do you think there would have had to be arm-twisting to get nations to show up to Bush's climate summit next year (presumably featuring the next GOP nominee)?

A trillion dollars, "all in" as they say in poker, means either you're a particularly inept bluffer or you've got an inside flush: you're taking the game seriously.

But no, we live in this reality, the one where an incompetent boob was elected (yes, the elections might have been stolen, but they simply shouldn't have been that close to begin with). He raped and pillaged our economy, Iraq, and Afghanistan, while paying lip service to anything that really matters: health care, poverty, crises that affected millions of people.

One trillion dollars. I keep shaking my head at that.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Fourth Day Of Christmas Music

Love, Actually - Christmas Is All Around

When The Wells Run Dry

In 1956, M. King Hubbert predicted that the United States would hi peak oil production in 1970-71. American reserves would begin to decline at that point.

People laughed. Until 1972's production numbers came out. And 1973's. And so on. They stopped laughing.

Hubbert also predicted that worldwide oil reserves would peak in 2006. He doesn't seem to be too far off the mark.

Other scientists have predicted that American has seen its peak natural gas production. We already import 15% of natural gas from Canada, which accounts for 50% of their production.

The rapidly expanding world and American economies have been built on cheap energy. As production has ramped up to meet demand and has been able to keep pace, energy has been really cheap.

That's now stopped. With one or two hiccups going forward, oil & gas production will plummet.

This issue weighs heavily on my mind because of issues raised in a film I watched yesterday, courtesy of Free Speech TV: The End of Suburbia

(side note: run, do not walk, to your local electronics store and get DishTV, which is the only full time outlet for Free Speech TV. Or sign up online. This channel alone makes it worthwhile.)

To-wit: what happens when the oil (and gas) runs out?

We can roughly divide gas and oil in this fashion: gas powers our homes and workplaces, while oil provides transportation. It's a gross simplification, but it is useful.

Both oil and gas provide an enormous amount of energy per unit of measure. Alternatives, like biomass, wind, or solar, don't provide nearly as much energy, and in some cases (biomass and ethanol), the energy required to extract fuel may actually exceed the energy obtained. Add to that fact that the input energy currently comes from fossil fuels, and you have a bad bargain. Nuclear could possibly replace natural gas as a means of producing electricity and heating and cooling, but some estimates are that we'd need upwards of 10,000 more nuclear power plants in order to match current demand, which would deplete fissible materials faster than we'd run out of oil. Coal is a possible short term solution, but even setting aside the environmental issues, it's good for maybe another hundred years or so.

In other words, unless some drastic measures are taken, within our lifetimes, we face a crisis unheard of in human history: a withdrawal from an addiction that will make getting off crack look like a walk in the park.

What do we face? What happens when the wells run dry?

Well, obviously, we wouldn't be able to drive cars much anymore, it takes about 90 barrels of oil to produce one car, and that's before fuel, so we'd lose a lot of mobility. Any fuel, including biomass or biodiesel, will be prohibitively expensive to produce. We'll take care to only use as much as necessary.

The United States is woefully undercapacity in terms of public transportation. Our rail system is antiquated to the point of being no better than Third World. Airplanes will return to being the luxury they once were, the toys of the wealthy.

Too, even if scale up our rail system, we'd need to provide electricity. That could be done locally, of course, perhaps some form of solar energy generation along the tracks (or even in the tracks). But I'm not ready to look at solutions.

We'd lose the electric grid as we know it: highly centralized power production demands highly efficient fuels to produce the power to send down the grid. Since the transmission of electricity implies the loss of electricity (no cable is 100% efficient, there''s always some heat loss as you go, the farther the more there is), we'd need more localized forms of power in order to replicate the current grid.

Heating our homes and offices would be a bit of a problem, since something like 86% of buildings rely solely on gas or oil (or electricity). Some places are lucky enough to be near raging bodies of water, like Niagara Falls, but hydroelectric capacity is pretty near 100% in this country and Canada.

So expect to be cold in the winter and hot in the summer, since the wattage of most American heating and cooling systems is beyond the capacity for all but the most sophisticated and extensive (and expensive!) solar technology at this point. We'll be scaling back on comfort.

Just in time for global warming! Mother Nature does love her little jokes.

Ah, but it gets worse! While we're shivering in our hovels, how will we eat? You see, nearly every effective pesticide or fertilizer on the market today relies on...petroleum. Current estimates are that it takes about ten calories of hydrocarbons to bring one calorie of food to your table, which includes transportation. Take away those hydrocarbons and you can see...that's the end of the California Caesar salad on your dinner table in Boston in January.

Well, so while you're shivering and starving, I guess you'll have to look for something to distract you. Um, well, see...plastics.

Look around you. Take a careful look: this computer you're reading this on. That TV in the corner, or that radio. The stereo. Your iPod.

Plastic is a petroleum based product as well.

It's going to be rather boring. This is truly going to be "survival of the fittest" in the world. We'll have to learn to do without and to live locally and tribally. There will likely be vast swaths of America abandoned because it turns out, the homes are too far from anything to walk to and from.

The crypt of conspicuous consumption will be the American cul-de-sac.

Larchmont, NY. Orange County, CA. Arlington, VA. These will be the new slums in the 22nd Century. We're already seeing a return to urbanization in both traditional industrialized cities as well as in new urban planning out in the suburbs, but along the lines of how cities grew up in the 19th century: around transportation stops and commuting hubs. In other words, eliminating the need for cars by extending cities outward, so that if you need to buy a new couch, you hop on a train to the city and have them deliver it to you.

The old tract houses and McMansions will be abandoned as people realize it is untenable to maintain a manicured lawn with sheepshit scraped off the (encroaching) forest floor. Homesteaders will either buy these houses on the cheap for multiple families (like many undocumented aliens do now), or will turn their half-acre of land into some form of self-sustainable farm, living off the grid as best as they can.

Will any good come of all this? I think so. The term gridlock almost automatically gets taken away, and if you simply must drive (or fly) from one place to another, you'll find the going is pretty smooth. But that's to be expected, you're paying first class fare.

Too, the rise of the Internet economy will make it a lot easier for people to stay off the streets to work and conduct business. That will help make things a little easier for us all, especially if we continue to develop this non-physical presence in the world. That could be affected by the lack of central power distribution, but hey, someone will figure out how to send low-power signals down the wires that can work computer servers, I'm sure, as a back up to local generation.

That's right. That little dance of having a back up power source for computers will be reversed. You'll be using your own power, and have the grid, such as it is, as a back up.

The world changed a lot because of cheap energy, to become what we have today. The change back will be painful, mostly because we are like children: we had something and we don't want to give that up.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Third Day Of Christmas Music

Love, Actually - All I Want For Christmas Is You

The Ice Is Now Broken

On at least one front, progressive politics is beginning to pay off:
In a 44-36 vote, the Democrat-run state assembly replaced the death sentence with life in prison without parole.

The bill is expected to be signed into law by Democratic Governor Jon Corzine - an opponent of the death penalty.

The move would make New Jersey the first US state to abolish capital punishment since the US Supreme Court reinstated executions in 1976.
Couple this with the recent decision by the United States Supreme Court to hear challenges to lethal injections as a form of execution, as well as many governors suspending death penalty sentences because of uncertainty over cruel and unusual, and we've got the makings of overturning an hideous decision by the highest court of this land to allow the government to serve in God's stead.

New Jersey joins thirteen other states now in banning the death penalty. Thirty-six more have some form of execution on the books and, of course, execution is still a possible Federal penalty, meaning many cases that rightly should be tried in state courts are being prosecuted at the Federal level, thus unnecessarily tying up courts that have better things to do than play God.

2006 saw the lowest execution rates in the US in ten years, and this year looks like it will be even lower.

I understand the position of people who believe in the death penalty. They believe that death = justice, an eye for an eye, but I believe that only God can truly look into someone's heart and make the determination as to whether they deserve to die or to suffer eternal punishment. No one believes that someone who has raped and killed a child (one of the Jersey prisoners this affects was Jessie Timmendequas, whose hideous crime instituted Megan's Law across the land) should be let lose, but what about a case like Robert Marshall, who was accused and convicted in his wife's murder and spent 18 years on death row in New Jersey, only to be freed in 2004 when evidence exonerating him was uncovered?

How would the state have presumed "justice" there? A monetary payout to his family?

Would Marshall have been anymore "brought back" than Megan Kanka by that "justice"?

We have not the capacity to look into God's mind and discover who truly is evil and who truly is good (and for that matter, I have my doubts about God's own nature in this matter). Until we can truly do that, and uncover who really is guilty and who is not, we cannot kill. Period.

After all, if anyone deserves to die, it would be a country's leader who has killed thousands of that country's youth as a result of his deliberation and intentional lies.

But no one has put George W Bush on death row...

Friday, December 14, 2007

Second Day Of Christmas Music

A Psycho Cat Christmas

Friday Cat Kitten Blogging

Hallo mah peepz! Mess me?

Nobody Asked Me, But...

1) In line with my prediction of yesterday, the CPI was announced this morning. Prices leaped 0.8% during the month of November. Not bad, until you annualize it: that's 9.6% inflation!

2) This is troubling, but not unexpected, news. Al Sadr answers to Ayatollah Al Sistani, for now. Should Iraq become an honest democracy, at some point, Al Sadr will be elected to a national office. As an Ayatollah, he could conceivably insitute an Islamist regime.

3) I'm posting a longer piece on this at The Reaction, but I have an opinion about steroids in sports: who cares?

4) Would that Bush had even this much courage, nevermind admitting to the corruption in his own time. My suspicion is, he'll confess all the dirty things he's done as he finds out he's dying, figuring that a deathbed confession will get him into heaven.

5) The US maintains a near-perfect record in terror arrests: zero wins. Hm, maybe Homeland Security should hire Roger Clemens' trainer?

6) This is kind of like closing the barn door with just the horse's tail still inside. It might be enough to prevent a catastrophe, but as I pointed out earlier this week, there's not much water coming off the mountains into the lakes.

7) Greed trumps policy. Again. If I was President, I'd cut off all Federal irrigation programs in these states until the Senators started acting like grown-ups about farm subsidies.

8) Question: wouldn't a toe have been sufficient, guys?

9) I missed this last night, sadly. The weather was atrocious.

10) I'm sorry, "w00t" isn't a word. Next year, Merriam plans to enshrine ":-)" as its word of the year, after heavy lobbying by Wal-Mart.

11) The twin healt scourges of the avian flu and Ebola seem to be settling in on Africa.

12) This round up has been pretty bleak. Let me throw in some light stuff: England bans samurai swords. I didn't realize this was a problem.

13) Basically, the Writer's Guild and the networks have a deadline: January.

14) What if George W Bush had never been born? It's A Blunderful Life! (h/t Dr. Avedon Carol at The Sideshow)

15) Finally, your moment of Zen: Mice who don't fear cats.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

First Day Of Christmas Music

Snoopy's Christmas - The Royal Guardsmen

The Ugly Times

If you're old enough to remember the Carter administration (1977-1981), then you'll remember the ugly phenomenon, unprecedented in a free-market economy, of stagflation.

Loosely defined, stagflation is when the economy is stagnant (i.e. a recession, in which economic activity slows) coupled with hyperinflation (when prices skyrocket through the roof).

The Carter stagflation hit when OPEC decided to play games with the price of oil. Since America was far and away the single largest consumer of OPEC oil, this was targeted directly at us, likely as a result of several foreign policy factors (Iran being number one among them).

Now that oil is flirting with its all-time record highs, as adjusted for inflation, as improbable as it may seem, we look likely headed down the stagflation path once again.

It's hard to describe what living in those times was like. The prime rate was up around 20%, while inflation ran at a then-unheard of (in America) rate of 15% (some studies indicate inflation may actually have reached higher levels in the past, like during the Civil War, but there's no clear measure of these incidents).

So the government was borrowing money at credit card rates, while families were seeing their incomes deteriorate at about one and a half percent a month, meaning if you made $30,000 a year, which was a really comfortable salary in 1979, by the end of that year, effectively you were making $25,000, but still paying taxes at the $30,000 rate, I should add. Further, banks stopped lending money at points in the incident, because if prime lending rates were 15%, say, but inflation was 16%, they were actually losing money in the deal.

Let's look at the current situation, tho: the housing market has cooled off and begun to drop nationwide. Housing prices have traditionally been the source of "wealth" in America, a fairly nebulous term that really means, "in a pinch, can I sell my home for more than I paid and pay down my credit cards?"

So long as the answer was "yes," people felt secure and kept on buying. Now the answer is "Eh. Not so much!"

This morning, we've seen clear signs that the economy is in serious trouble. While the Producer Price Index, the average cost to produce a good and bring it to market, shot up 3.2% on an annual basis in November, retail sales were up only 1.2%.

Which means that the entire increase in retail sales can be attributed ONLY to inflation (and the PPI doesn't include direct energy costs!), meaning the consumer economy dropped by about 2% in November. People bought 2% less in November. Period.

The consumer markets make up about 70% of the gross domestic product (the entire economic activity of a nation), so we'll call this a drop of about 1.75% in the economy.

In other words, a recession. A contraction. Not a good thing.

In current economic theory, you fight inflation by raising interest rates. This tightens available credit, forcing companies to put off infrastructure investment, and also means people like you and me pay more interest on our credit cards.

But the Fed has had to lower interest rates in response to the crippling sub-prime mortgage crisis, which has rippled now into prime mortgages. Anyone who believed this crisis was contained in the sub-prime markets is an idiot, including Ben Bernanke.

No rational borrower in his right mind is going to see offering 0% adjustable rate mortgages and not bite their banker's ass about paying 5%, even on a fixed rate loan! Hell, I bitched about paying 1.9%!

This clearly ripples through the credit markets, and is a far larger problem than we've been led to believe.

And don't think this is only an American problem. England's Northern Rock bank debacle shows that it's at least hitting the EU, and many central bank heads believe that we might see the first global stagflation in history.

You wanted to be a war president, Herr Bush? You will be, in 2008. A global stagflation will mean more poverty, more starvation, more angry young men and women in the streets of poor countries with weak tyrannical leaders.

The pieces are in place, ladies and gentlemen, for a true World War III. And we have only ourselves and our greedy overlords to thank.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Hump Day Comedy Blogging

The classic "Schweaty Balls For Christmas"

How Dry I Am....

Within our lifetimes, much of the west coast will be uninhabitable desert.

Don't believe me?:
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - By 2040, climate change will have melted the glaciers of Glacier National Park in Montana and the spring snowpack in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, scientists said on Tuesday.

"People talk about a tipping point, but we've been there and done that," said Tim Barnett, a researcher at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California and speaker at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union.[...]

Barnett studies snowpack at high altitudes in the Western United States and estimates the region's snow accumulation decreased an average of 20 percent between 1950 and 1999.[...]

About 50 percent of the fresh water consumed by people worldwide comes from mountains, so the rate at which snowpack is disappearing is worrying, said Daniel Fagre, an ecologist who works for the U.S. Geological Survey in Glacier National Park in Montana.
This "50%" includes most of Los Angeles and San Diego, as well as most of New Mexico and Arizona.

The example being shown us by Atlanta, which can trace its problems to an extended drought, pale in comparison to this situation. This same drought could dry Durham up by February.

But droughts can be cured. A good long soaking rain, a few weeks of contunual rain showers, hell, a blizzard, any of these could replenish Atlanta's and Durham's water supply fairly quickly.

This would not happen in the West. You can't replace glacier melt quickly, and rain...well, there aren't a lot of deserts out in that part of the world because it gets a lot of rain. The topography is such that the water gets drawn out of the ground and transported over the Rockies, which is Colorado has such lush valleys.

Ironically, if we had fixed our dependence on oil decades ago, as prescient President Jimmy Carter had wanted to, we'd have the perfect delivery system that could shunt water from places with abundance to places that needed it: oil and natural gas pipelines.

After all, it would have cost a lot of money to dig those up, so likely they would have been cleaned and left to rust.

Now, we'll have to figure out strategies for transporting water to places that need it because they've been impacted by global warming due to....transporting commodities, in large part.

Irony, thy name art "human".

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

If We Can Put A Man On The Moon...

I'm not sure what the footdragging by the Bush administration here is about.

Bush himself has admitted that global warming is real, that it's largely manmade, and that the United States is a large contributor to the problem.

So what gives?
NUSA DUA, Indonesia (Reuters) - Delegates at U.N. climate talks resisted U.S. pressure to delete tough 2020 guidelines for cutting greenhouse gases with the European Commission saying they were a "crucial" element in a draft text.

The U.N.-led talks have become dominated by disputes over whether a text should keep a mention of a need for rich nations to axe greenhouse gas emissions by 25 to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 to avoid the worst impacts.

Any watering down or removal of the non-binding range would anger developing nations, which are demanding rich nations do more to cut their own greenhouse gas emissions.

Washington and Tokyo want the range cut out but it was still in the latest draft on Tuesday, delegates said.
Now, I'm not mathematician, but 2020 is exactly 12 years and 20 days away.

With far fewer resources in hand, with far more primitive technology, it took the United States approximately twelve years to make it off the ground and to land men on the moon. When computers were housed in huge storage spaces, and had vacuum tubes instead of transistors and micro-processors.

Is President Bush suggesting, through this intransigence, that America is incapable of meeting this modest goal? NASA's budget for the Apollo program was $20 billion dollars, which today would be about $100 billion, give or take a $20 billion.

In other words, less than six months' downpayment on the Iraq war. Is that not worth the price? The ability to save a significant part of the global environment? The likelihood of preventing a global cataclysm that will wreak havoc (as it already is) on the United States in terms of weather, drought, storms, and tornadoes? Hell, I'd wager than $100 billion dollars ANNUALLY might still be worth the price, if it also means weaning ourselves off oil and onto renewable clean energy sources.

The need for such extensive lead time is simple: in order to set up any kind of effective mechanism that will provide a long-term solution without major impact on the world economies, measures have to be introduced in steps. These measures will affect developed nations, to be sure, but will also affect less-developed nations and there's the rub: the infrastructure necessary for, say, a carbon trading market would have to include ways of enforcing adherence to the rules of the market (you can't use a credit that you've already received money for, is the obvious example) and for contingencies (to extend my example, what if you have a national emergency that forces you to resort to a more carbon-producing energy system?).

Too, the economic and technologic benefits to the nation that accrue from our "greening" can be enormous, and quite unexpected. We've seen from the space race that everything in American society changed, from how we do mathematics to what materials we use to build televisions (and indeed, the self-same microprocessors trace their roots in part to the space race).

We wouldn't have cell phones, or satellite TV. We wouldn't have laptops. We wouldn't have Palm Pilots. We wouldn't have arthroscopic surgery. We wouldn't have hip replacements or breast implants. I wouldn't be able to scuba dive in a dry suit. You probably wouldn't have microwavable food, altho you might have your would be the size of your oven, however.

Imagine the kind of developments we would obtain from going green. For one thing, we could localize energy production to such an extent that the grid as we know it would be practically useless to the average homeowner, thus freeing up enormous capacity for business and commercial use, and if there's any one thing the history of this nation has shown us, abundance creates money.

In fact, the grid would likely become a source of income for many homeowners, who would be able to sell energy back to the grid rather than use it. Imagine trading electricity on eBay.

Cleaning technologies, probably the first step in meeting these reductions, would transfer to so many areas that it would stop being considered a nasty job. For example, what if the paint on your house could clean itself of dust and grime? This could be a direct outgrowth of advanced carbon scrubbing technologies that companies would eat up in a heartbeat in order to reduce their carbon footprints.

Imagine a house that vacuums and dusts itself, only needing a robot (or if you're old school, a push broom) for the really big messes. We're not that far away from it now, what with air handling technology in many central air conditioning systems.

And you'd think Bush would want to pump up his legacy by making this our nation's Apollo program for the 21st Century. You'd think he'd want to cement a legacy for himself that wouldn't be centered solely on the abject failure that is Iraq and the near-tragedy that Afghanistan is threatening to become.

You'd think he'd want to be known as more than a war president.

And you'd be wrong, apparently.

UPDATE: If Britain can do this, why can't we?